Check This Out: Film Makers and Torch

With me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Lyn Miller-Lachmann who is here to talk about two more books she has written. She’s already been on the blog in recent months to discuss two other books. Click here and here for those interviews. Today, we’re celebrating her nonfiction book, Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors, which was coauthored by Tanisa “Tee” Moore and published by Chicago Review Press on September 6.

       

Torch, her historical novel for young adults, will be published by Lerner/Carolrhoda on November 1. Click here to read the synopsis.  Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

El Space: Lyn, you have been quite the workhorse this year with so many books debuting. Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors debuted last month. Torch debuts next month. There’s a connection between the two, besides you as their author. Please share that connection if you can, unless there is a huge spoiler you can’t reveal.
Lyn: No spoiler at all! I came up with the idea for Torch after watching the TV miniseries Burning Bush, which begins with the self-immolation of Charles University student Jan Palach in Prague in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year and his people’s passivity after losing their freedom and independence. The director of that miniseries is Agnieszka Holland, a Polish director who has made a number of significant historical films, including three that explore the Holocaust and the more recent, Mr. Jones, about the Soviet terror-famine known as the Holodomor in 1930s Ukraine. Holland is one of the groundbreaking women directors I included in Film Makers and one of my all-time favorite directors.

El Space: You have so many interests. I’m always curious as to how you choose a project to work on.
Lyn: While Burning Bush showed me the different ways the people of Czechoslovakia resisted the Soviet occupation, I never got a sense from the miniseries of the young people who bore the brunt of the repression, including Palach, who sacrificed his life. I asked myself, Who were his friends? How did his death change their lives? What consequences did they face as a result of their association with him? From there, my characters of Pavol, Štěpán, Tomáš, and Lída emerged.

In the case of Film Makers, my agent, Jacqui Lipton, represented other authors who were writing for Chicago Review’s Women of Power series, and she invited me to submit a proposal. I like films and use them heavily in researching my historical fiction, so I suggested women directors. And since one of the filmmakers I wanted to include was Ava DuVernay and Tanisia Tee Moore, who was one of Jacqui’s other clients at the time, is a huge fan of her work, I suggested Tee as a co-author.

El Space: I was only familiar with nine of the fifteen filmmakers featured in your book. How did you research it? Were you able to talk to the featured directors?
Lyn: The series features contemporary directors, ones still working in the industry, so Tee and I chose some of our current favorites. We wanted directors from diverse backgrounds, those who worked with both popular franchises and indie films, documentary filmmakers, and TV directors and showrunners. Most of the directors make both feature films and TV episodes. We weren’t able to talk to the directors personally—that’s show business—but we saw several in exclusive panels for festivals and premieres.

El Space: How did the characters of Torch come to you? Why was it important for you to tell their story?
Lyn: Pavol is based on Jan Palach and even more on a secondary student, Jan Zajíc, who followed in his footsteps a month later. The first one of his friends who came to me was his girlfriend Lída, who, unbeknown to him, is pregnant with his child. Tomáš is my most autobiographical character—an autistic child of privilege who cannot fulfill his father’s expectations because of his neurodivergence but has a keen eye for the hypocrisy of the communist elite. Pavol is a genuinely kind person, and Tomáš clings to him as his first and only friend. Štěpán, on the other hand, is the bully who has tormented Tomáš all the way through school. However, his friendship with Pavol—due in part because they share a desire for freedom, and in part because he has an unrequited crush on Pavol—motivates Štěpán to change, even though change is hard for him. I wanted to tell these stories because all four teenagers lose their dreams and their futures when the democracy and freedom of expression they’ve been promised is taken away. This freedom is precious to them, and they’re willing to give up everything—their families, their homes, even their lives—to keep it. This is a something I think many young people in our country are becoming aware of now, because we’re beginning to lose our freedom in so many areas.

El Space: Though Torch is historical fiction, it feels current thanks to recent events. How did you wrap your head around the past events? Did you have to turn off today’s news in order to stay immersed in the past?
Lyn: I’ve written about young activists and human rights, most notably my debut YA novel, Gringolandia, about a Chilean refugee teen during the Pinochet dictatorship whose father, an underground journalist, is released from a political prison and comes to live with his family in exile. I think that growing up in an oppressive social and political environment in the South and being bullied because of my differences has made me keenly aware of how societies bully and oppress. And no, I didn’t turn off today’s news. It’s in the background of everything I write.

El Space: What was your process for working on multiple projects with more than one co-author? Is there anything you would do differently? Why or why not? What advice do you have for an author who juggles multiple projects?
Lyn: For both Film Makers and Moonwalking, the verse novel I wrote with Zetta Elliott, my co-author and I were responsible for alternating chapters in the book. In the case of Moonwalking, I wrote the poems from the point of JJ, my white autistic character obsessed with The Clash, and Zetta wrote the ones for Pie, the Afro-Latinx honor student who wants to make it in the art world like Jean-Michel Basquiat. For Film Makers, we divvied up the 15 directors and drew from our backgrounds and experiences in writing their biographies. In both cases, the collaboration worked because each of us had our strengths that complemented each other. But it takes a lot of trust in each other to make that happen.

As far as juggling multiple projects, which I continue to do, what helps is scheduling blocks of time for each project. By now, I have a good idea of how much time each needs and the best environment—work space, time of day—to work on each.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m working on four translations from Portuguese—two picture books and two YA graphic novels. I’m also in the middle of a YA verse novel that’s set in Portugal and inspired by several of my translation projects. There will be more exciting news to come!

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors  and Torch can be found here:

Amazon        Amazon
B&N              B&N
Indiebound    Indiebound
Bookshop      Bookshop

One commenter will receive Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors. Another will receive Torch. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Ava DuVernay and Agnieszka Holland photos found somewhere on the internet.

Back in the Day

I’m from an era where baseballs broke windows. Lest you wonder when baseballs stopped doing that, let me explain. I was born and raised in Chicago. When I was a kid playing baseball back in the dark ages, during one game, the batter made a line drive that would have been celebrated had it not broken a neighbor’s window. No, I was not the one who was at bat. And yes, I am not lying. I got into enough trouble on my own without having to borrow someone else’s trouble. But I thought about that incident when someone the other day mentioned being from an era where parents made you go outside and play.

My parents didn’t have to make my brothers and I do that. In the summer, we went outside as soon as breakfast was over and didn’t return inside until lunchtime. After lunch, back outside we’d go. In the fall, we went back outside as soon as we threw our book bags inside the house after school. We practically lived outside. Being kids, usually trouble found us in the form of broken windows; forbidden fences climbed (that was me); doorbells rung, followed by fleeing feet (again, me). Dennis the Menace (a character created by Hank Ketcham) has nothing on me.

Lest you think, “You hooligans,” we were just average kids. In elementary school, the neighborhood bullies beat you up at 3:15 (after school) or threatened to sic their dogs on you. That was about as dangerous as it got. If you had an older sibling like I did, you might get provoked into a fight once or twice by a bully in your grade who liked living dangerously. But when your older sibling got involved, the bully soon got the message to leave you alone, at least until your older sibling went to middle school or high school. You were on your own then. I got into more fights in middle school than any other grade.

I’m a product of my era and environment. This doesn’t mean I can’t change or that I want to remain in outmoded thought patterns. It just means that the years created a texture within my personality, adding layers that make up who I am. There is an authenticity to this shaping of years.

This is why I usually heave a troubled sigh when I read a book or see TV productions set in a specific historical era but the enlightened attitudes and mode of speech of the characters are purely twenty-first century. Ironically, I loved A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger, a movie with anachronistic dialogue and songs on purpose. It worked for me, because I understood that purpose.

I’ve heard some showrunners and editors say that people (teens in particular, since that’s the audience I think about the most) today can relate more to vernacular in use today.

Some words are built out of an era. It’s like the layers I mentioned earlier. When an author casually drops them into the dialogue of someone in an era that hasn’t yet produced the factors that would shape that language, I wince every time, despite the presumed accessibility to a modern audience. Take the word subtext, for example. It had a completely different meaning in the 1800s (see this post for why) to what its meaning became in 1950. (See the same post highlighted in the previous sentence.) Yet I have seen this word used in books with the 1950s meaning, but spoken in the dialogue of characters in the Regency period or even earlier. You might think, Oh my goodness, are you nitpicking. And you’re probably right. But I can’t suspend belief that I am in a specific time period and a character is using words and idioms that would only mean something to someone born two hundred years after this character is supposed to have existed, just because people today use them.

I’m just rambling today, sorry. Sometimes my mind goes in a direction and I just go with it. Feel free to put me in my place in the comments below.

Broken window from apexwindowwerks. A Knight’s Tale album image from Amazon.

Cover Reveal: Moonwalking

Yes, I’m still alive! An editing project kept me extremely busy. But I’m here to reveal the cover of my good friend Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s upcoming middle grade novel in verse, Moonwalking, coauthored with Zetta Elliott (right). Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton. Feast your eyes, people!

 

The cover illustrator is David Cooper. Moonwalking will be publis will hed on April 12, 2022 by FSG Books for Young Readers/Macmillan. Here is a description:

For fans of Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson, this middle-grade novel-in-verse follows two boys in 1980s Brooklyn as they become friends for a season.

Punk rock-loving JJ Pankowski can’t seem to fit in at his new school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as one of the only white kids. Pie Velez, a math and history geek by day and graffiti artist by night is eager to follow in his idol, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s, footsteps. The boys stumble into an unlikely friendship, swapping notes on their love of music and art, which sees them through a difficult semester at school and at home. But a run-in with the cops threatens to unravel it all.

Moonwalking is a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys’ search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.

Pre-orders: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374314378

I will preorder a copy of Moonwalking for one person who comments. Where were you in the 80s (if you were alive back then)? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be revealed next week!

Cover and author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Birthday in the Age of COVID-19

As I wrote the title of this post, I thought about books like The Diary of Samuel Pepys, excerpts of which I read back in the Dark of Ages in my undergraduate years (Da Vinci was one of my classmates; that guy knew his way around a painting), A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which I also read at some point, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez which I have not read, but probably will someday. Others have probably mentioned these books lately, particularly those by Pepys and Defoe, who wrote about the Bubonic plague back in the seventeenth century (though Defoe’s book was historical fiction).

So anyway, this is how I celebrated my birthday this past Sunday in these days of social distancing. First, my fellow island villagers threw a surprise birthday party for me in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I’m playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. I just wish my character had been allowed to change out of her night wear before the festivities began. Oh well. Back in college, birthday ambushes with me stuck in pajamas used to happen every year. But in these social distancing days, many people are using the game to have birthday parties, not just with NPCs (non-player characters, if you’re not into gaming but were curious) but with real-life friends who visit their islands to celebrate.

 

That was just one way of celebrating the day. Before I get to the rest of the Sunday festivities, let me add that the day before, friends dropped off breakfast, lunch, and dessert. There’s nothing like someone showing up in a mask to hand you a cup of coffee and a restaurant meal that says, “Celebrate good times, come on!” (By the way, the knight’s helm-looking hat on the sign in the first photo above is one I’ve worn while heading out in the world. The visor fits over my nose and mouth perfectly.)

  

Back to Sunday, I received a phone call from a friend (one of the pastors at church) who instructed me to come outside. Days earlier, she’d told me she wanted to drop something off, so not suspecting anything, I went out, expecting to see her standing by the front door. Instead, I was greeted by a line of people in cars honking their horns and shrieking “Happy birthday!” These are just a few.

 

So that’s how birthdays are celebrated in these virus days. I received some great gifts, part of the tradition of celebrating. Here are a few:

   

 

One of the above books was given by a friend who showed up with dinner on my birthday (not pictured due to having been eaten before I remembered that I needed to take a picture). The other came from my brother and sister-in-law. Speaking of books, one of the gifts I received that was not pictured was an Amazon card which I promptly used to purchase the book below, which is a must-have for the socially conscious person, especially parents looking to enhance their children’s understanding of classroom etiquette.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because you can receive what I received—a tradition around this blog. I can’t show up at your house even with a mask on to hand you a meal. But I can celebrate you, even if it’s not your birthday. So I am giving away TWO $25 Amazon cards or the rough equivalent at Amazon UK (easier to email).

That’s right:

Two $25 Amazon gift cards!

Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Photos by L. Marie.

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.

Guest Post: Katia Raina

Please welcome to the blog the awe-inspiring Katia Raina, who is here to talk about her young adult novel! Take it away, Katia!

I find myself at a thrilling turn of my life’s journey. Today, I am the debut author of Castle of Concrete, a young adult romance set in 1990s Russia, coming this June from Young Europe Books. Once a relentless journalist, now a goofy middle school English teacher, always a stubborn early morning writer, I am excited to share a bit of my story with you here on L. Marie’s blog.

My story starts across the ocean in a small Ukrainian city, then Siberia, then Moscow, Russia.

On the outside, I was a quiet Russian girl (photo at left), a shy one, an odd one. On the inside, I was Jewish, and proud, even though I knew early on it was not a thing to advertise. I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with dream worlds of romance, science fiction and fairy tales.

 

No matter the genre, it was easy to identify with outcasts and outsiders. I wondered what separated some people from others. I wondered why people did that—allowed some to belong, while pushing others away.

My story starts with lots of loneliness—lots of quiet, lots of missing of my dear mama, who was struggling to put her life together far away from me—as my grandmother did her best to raise me. Looking back, I recognize the quiet wasn’t always filled with loneliness. The quiet in which I grew up gave me the chance to look closely at the world and take note. It gave me lots and lots of space in which to dream and to wonder. Though I didn’t know it then, it seems so obvious now—it was this quiet that formed the writer I would become.

While I was growing up, my country, then called the Soviet Union, was crumbling under the Communist rule. Lots of resentment building, ready to burst out. Because my grandfather had left the country for the shiny America, we were considered to be in many ways a “traitor’s family.” This made things even harder for my mother, an aspiring journalist trying to get into a good university or land a solid job. Being Jewish didn’t help either.

I emigrated to the United States with my family just before I turned 16. That was when I knew I found my home at last, in this land of diversity and variety. As I grew up, became a journalist and started a family of my own, the memories and questions of childhood and adolescence rose back to the surface, and I began writing a romance novel about a shy Jewish girl in the last year of the collapsing Soviet Union, reuniting with her long-absent dissident mother and falling in love with a boy who may be an anti-Semite.

I didn’t set out to write historical fiction. I didn’t necessarily make a conscious decision to become an author for young adults, either. I just wrote the story that had been bursting to come out. Even so, it took me 15 years to get this story just right. Now I am overjoyed to share it with the world.

Many ask if Sonya Solovay, the protagonist of Castle of Concrete, is based on me, and if the story I wrote is based on real events of my childhood. It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. While this story came onto the page straight from my soul, and while Sonya and I definitely have a lot in common, this story is fiction—bits of memory and reality intertwined so tightly with fancy and imagination, that at this point for me, it’s kind of impossible to tell the two apart. One thing about this story that is very real though, is my struggle as a teen to find my strength and my voice, and to learn to embrace all parts of me, including ones I understood so little about, such as my Jewish roots.

This is why I wrote Castle of Concrete, and this is what I hope readers take away from it. The inspiration to learn about the heritage and history that make them who they are. The courage to make their journey their own.

Castle of Concrete Synopsis: Set in the final year of Soviet Russia’s collapse, this stunning debut novel tells the story of Sonya, a timid Jewish girl reuniting with her once-dissident mother and falling in love with a mysterious muddy-eyed boy who may be an anti-Semite. All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also⎯with shiny America, a land where differences seem to be celebrated. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?

Bio
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. She emigrated from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic.

L. Marie here. I’ll be giving away a preorder of Castle of Concrete. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on February 25.

Looking for Katia? You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, her blog (The Magic Mirror), and Goodreads.

Author, childhood photo, and book cover courtesy of Katia Raina. Map from maps.nationmaster.com. . Russian fairy tale images, including the Palekh miniature, are from rbth.com and russian-crafts.com.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Cover Reveal: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I’m always excited to see great book covers. And when a cover belongs to a book written by one of my VCFA classmates, well, I’m overjoyed! Feast your eyes on the cover for The Unbinding of Mary Reade, a young adult historical novel written by the awesome Miriam McNamara. Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency.

Summary

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession―and her safety―depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything―her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade will be published by Sky Pony Press on February 6, 2018. Now, let’s talk to Miriam!

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Miriam: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They are such mythical people: two women who joined a pirate crew in a time when women had no power. I was particularly drawn to Mary Reade, who was raised as a boy by her family―so the story goes―as part of an elaborate scheme to keep them off the streets. The idea of someone being raised as someone they know they are not is very timely, even if Mary Reade’s story is unique. I thought it would be an interesting lens to examine gender through. As a queer teenager, it was hard for me to unravel the connections and differences between gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story about a character for whom no easy lines could be drawn regarding either. Mary doesn’t fit any convenient labels, so she really has to figure out who she is starting from scratch.

I love outsider cultures, the communities that are formed by those who don’t fit into the mainstream. I love to explore what happens when people break the rules, especially when they break them just by being who they are. I love to explore what happens when people follow the rules and are still let down by them, as so many people often are. I also just wanted to write a love story about queer girls, because there aren’t enough of them.

El Space: What a gorgeous cover! What, if any, suggestions were you expected to provide for the cover? Did you have any say over what was depicted on it?
Miriam: I was not expecting to have any say regarding the cover, so I was thrilled when my editor, Rachel Stark at Sky Pony Press, asked me if I had any input. I found a couple of covers of other books that I absolutely loved and put together a mood board with the covers and a few other images, and wrote a paragraph or two about what I envisioned. Fonts, color schemes, images, etc. Nothing too specific. When I sent it to Rachel, it turned out that we’d picked out mostly the exact same book covers as comps! So I knew we were on the right track.

El Space: Who worked on the cover? How long was the process?
Miriam: It was almost exactly a month later when I heard back from Rachel. I was psyched about the cover, but both of us had the same concern about one tiny detail. Rachel relayed the feedback to the design team, and I received the final cover the next day!

El Space: How did you react when you saw the cover?
Miriam: I was really pleased. One idea I’d thrown out was having the font of the title be kind of like a binding coming undone, with a ribbony, fabric-like quality to it. You can see that they nailed that! And I love the ship! And the color scheme is PERFECT. It’s got a great romantic feel to it. So yes, I’m very happy!


Author Bio

Miriam McNamara was born in Ireland, raised in the Southern US, and is a new, proud resident of the Midwest. She has dressed up as some variation on pirate for Halloween more years than she has not—her favorite still being Rollerskating Pirate, circa 2003. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where The Unbinding of Mary Reade won the Norma Fox Mazer Award for a YA work-in-progress. She lives with her wife, two dogs, and two cats in a tiny house in North Minneapolis, but she also calls Asheville, North Carolina home. You can find her at www.miriammcnamara.com or on Twitter at @McNamaraMiriam.

Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Book cover courtesy of the author.

Check These Out: Books for a Thrilling Christmas

Greetings! With me on the blog today are two authors already known to many of you: the fabulous Andra Watkins and the equally fabulous John Howell.

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They’re here to talk about the latest books in their series. Click here and here for series information.

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Hard to Die was published by Word Hermit Press. Our Justice was published by Keewaydin Lane Books. Stick around later for the giveaway info.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: 1. I’m afraid to answer FaceTime, because my parents like to call when they’re either naked or scantily clad.
2. Once I break the seal, I eat SweeTARTS until my mouth turns raw. I cannot stop.
3. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. My husband thinks that’s inconceivable!

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

4. I love to meet my readers. The furthest I’ve traveled to meet a reader is Australia. She was delightful. But all my readers are.

John: 1. I have written a thousand words a day for seven days a week since 2012.
2. I began writing after turning seventy, five years ago.
3. I love to write poetry but won’t show it to anyone.
4 I live with my wife and three rescue pets on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your series?
Andra: What if you disappeared? Or no one knew exactly how you died? And because nobody knew what happened, you couldn’t fully die?

I’ve always been fascinated with unresolved deaths. Somebody, somewhere, knew what happened, at least for a little while. Both Hard to Die and To Live Forever give real people with unresolved deaths new adventures. It’s speculative fiction at its ‘what if’-iest. If you’re skeptical about giving me a try, here’s what real readers say about this series:

“One of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read.” Jen Mann, NYT best selling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat
“I LOVED this book!” Nicole Knepper, author of Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind
“Absolutely thrilling read!”
“My new favorite.”
Hard to Die is hard to put down.”
“Riveting.”
“One of the best reads I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“A magical tale.”

John: My sister and I were touring the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. [Photo below.] Our father was a naval aviator during World War II and served on the Lexington. We wanted to walk the halls and in some way get a sense of his experience. While standing on the flight deck, it occurred to me that this symbol of American military strength was unarmed and vulnerable to anyone who would want to destroy this treasure. Although my series is not about the Lexington, it did set the stage for the subsequent terrorist quest to embarrass America.

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El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Andra: Several books informed my Nowhere Series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind was a white-knuckled tour through Barcelona. I loved the fantasy, the inventive ties to forgotten books, and the homage to the landscape. I hope Zafón taught me how to keep a reader turning pages.

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Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, is a slim gem of speculative fiction. His short afterlife tales are so tight and inventive. He first made me think about what an alternative afterlife could be.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is a grounded fantasy tale I wish I’d written. Gosh, the writing is gorgeous. I love how she chose to deal with loss, death, and the afterlife, all through the eyes of a mute little boy. I’d read this book over All the Light We Cannot See.

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John: I am inspired by Nevil Shute and his book On the Beach. I was impressed in the manner that he could make up a fictional situation and characters and craft the position so that it seemed real and did not have a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut inspired me in several books by how he could use actual situations as backdrops to a fictional story. John Irving gave me the courage to write about whimsy, and did it with a boldness that allowed the reader to believe the appropriateness of a sometimes outrageous situation to the storyline. Finally, Andra Watkins continues to inspire me through her determination to bring her stories to life in spite of all challenges to her personally.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Andra: Keep writing. 2016 has been tough for many people. It’s been especially hard on me. I launched a book a week before the election while I was afflicted with a significant illness. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how that launch turned out. I’ve cried and raged and questioned myself ten thousand times, but in the end, writers must write, even when writing makes no sense. Especially when writing makes no sense.

John: A talented writer, Craig Boyack, wrote a post on how to add suspense to a story. Although sometimes we don’t think of adding suspense in certain situations Craig pointed out a way to add a small portion even though it has no meaningful outcome to the story. The reason I thought this was great advice is we often think of suspense elements as some core plot elements and not a way to raise the enjoyment level of a story. I think his opinion changed that concept for me.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andra: I Am Number 13 is the third book in the Nowhere Series. It will be available in Spring 2017. I have at least three more characters lined up for future installments, though I no longer say how many books that will be. These characters become their own very insistent people. Hard to Die wasn’t supposed to be part of my Nowhere Series. That’s how insistent Theodosia Burr Alston is. And the male narrator, Richard Cox, wasn’t in the first three drafts. I look at Hard to Die now and can’t imagine it without him.

John: I am currently wrapping up the editing on a book titled “Circumstances of Childhood.” It is a story about a guy who is very successful until he runs amuck with a Security Exchange Commission audit. He needs to rely on a childhood pal for help but the question remains can the friend help him. The book goes to beta readers in January.

I have also started a thriller about a couple who find a cell phone on the beach. The phone contains some valuable information encoded into the contact list. The guy who lost the phone has been punished and now the boss wants his phone back. The chief of police is right in the crosshairs since he turned the phone over to Homeland Security since he thought some of the photos looked suspicious. The first draft should be finished by May.

Thank you, Andra and John, for being my guests!

Looking for Andra? You can find her here and here.
Looking for John? You can find him here and here.

Looking for Hard to Die and book one in the series? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Looking for Our Justice and other books in the trilogy? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another place you can look is your front doorstep, because I’m giving away a copy of Hard to Die and Our Justice to a commenter. The winner will be announced on December 15.

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What is Kitty up to? No good, I suspect. Stay tuned. . . .

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from their websites and Goodreads. Still image from The Princess Bride from moviereviewland.blogspot. Gulf of Mexico map from worldatlas.com. USS Lexington at Corpus Christi photo from tourism-review.com.