End of an Era—2019 and the Decade

By the time you read this, 2020 will be here. But today being New Year’s Eve, I asked Henry what he was looking forward to in 2020. You know, the kind of question everyone asks on the eve of a new year.

“Grapes,” he said. Not quite what I’d expected to hear, but to each his own.

Um, those are not grapes, Henry.

Though they weren’t asked, Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal chimed in with, “Catching some Zzzs” and “Tacos” respectively.

And Malik added, “Continuing to be awesome.” Perhaps having low expectations is the way some cope with the changing year.

Henry’s new BFF, the Bunny Cupcake (who sadly will be moving away soon), had very little to say other than bidding Henry a tearful good-bye.

And so, we bid good-bye to 2019 and the decade. I’m hardly tearful however. I’m glad to see you go, 2019! Thanks to the polar vortex, various family illnesses, manuscript rejections, pet deaths, and job losses, you will not be missed.

But as I consider those challenges, I can’t help seeing what they shaped in me, my family, and friends. Resilience is formed not in ease but in hard times. So 2019, your peaks and valleys left a residue of resilience that we can all carry into 2020—a year of endless possibilities.

I’m not one for making resolutions. And if you follow this blog at all, you know that I hardly ever post goals. (Some might say I never post goals.) But I’m writing three books that I’m looking forward to finishing in 2020.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? Comment below!

Happy New Year!

Photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Gift of Story


When I was a kid, I learned to value stories. My parents read books to me at bedtime, which made me want to read stories for myself. Many of the stories they read were fairy tales or fantastical adventures written by Dr Seuss. As soon as I learned to read, I read just about everything—fiction and nonfiction. I had (and still have) an insatiable curiosity for the stories of others. Sharing stories is the main reason why I love to give books away.

  

I love being taken on an adventure through the pages of a book. So many aspects of life are stressful these days, so I value more and more the stories I read and the characters I grow to care about. My favorite time of day is the time I can spend with a book, watching the workaday world fade away beyond the edges of the pages in front of me.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the books for the Christmas giveaways, which were announced in this post and this one:

The winner of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries is Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Up for Air is Laura Bruno Lilly!


The winner of The Art of Breaking Things Is Nicki!


The winner of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is Marian!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Happy reading! And thank you to all who commented!

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Books covers (with the exception of those being given away) from Goodreads.

Deck the Halls for 2019

Back when I was in grad school (VCFA), each new class had the assignment of choosing a class name. Usually these names had something to do with books or writing. My class chose the Secret Gardeners based on the book The Secret Garden.

With that being said, this is the second of two holiday season book giveaways (the first described in this post), this time featuring three more awesome Secret Gardener classmates: Laurie Morrison, Laura Sibson, and Nicole Valentine, all of whom stopped by for a brief chat today. Though they appeared on the blog here, here, and here to discuss their novels, and copies were given away before, another copy of each book will be given away this time. ’Tis the season!

 

 

   

Click here for the synopsis for Up for Air.
Click here for the synopsis for The Art of Breaking Things.
Click here for the synopsis for A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.

El Space: What’s the best Christmas gift you received when you were a kid? Why was it special for you?

Laurie: The best Christmas gift I ever got was kittens! When I was eight or nine, my parents brought home two tiny, adorable kittens. My brothers and I were completely surprised. We had no idea our parents were even considering getting pets even though we had asked. We loved figuring out names for them—we went with Christmas and Mistletoe and called them Chrissy and Missy for short—and holding them. One of them disappeared on Christmas Day, and it turned out she was hiding in a tiny space between a piece of furniture and the wall. So that was an adventure! But it was just such a joy to have such a surprise and to feel grown up and responsible as I helped take care of them.

Laura: I have a photo from my sixth Christmas. In it, I am seated on a brand new bike while wearing a fancy bathrobe fit for a princess. I also have a huge grin on my face. This Christmas photo perfectly captures the two sides of me—the girl excited for her first two-wheel bike and the girl who daydreamed about magic and medieval kingdoms.

Nicole: I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but there was one Christmas where my best friend and I thought it would be excellent fun to sneak around our houses and find the hidden presents before the big day. And it was fun! It was the closest thing to a real live treasure hunt a kid could have in 1980-something. However, it soon became painfully obvious to us both that when Christmas morning came we wouldn’t be surprised. I stayed silent and told my parents nothing, but with each passing day I became more disappointed in myself. And then, on Christmas morning there was one extra present under the tree that I had not seen before. It was a small child’s sewing kit and it wasn’t something that I had even asked for, but right then it seemed like the greatest gift in the whole world. The tag said To Nicole, Love Santa in some very familiar cursive handwriting. I still don’t know if my mother saw the telltale signs of our snooping, but I am forever thankful for that sewing kit.

Thank you, Laurie, Laura, and Nicole for stopping by!

What’s the best gift (holiday or otherwise) you received when you were a kid? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. There will be three winners for this giveaway. Each winner will receive one of the above books. Winners of both giveaways to be announced on December 20, 2019.

Henry is pleased with his tree decorating. But the snowman, who is a stickler for correct spelling, thinks an adjustment needs to be made.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photos and covers courtesy of the authors. The Secret Garden cover from Goodreads. Fairy tale castle from clipartpanda. Kittens from the SF SPCA. Sewing kit from dreamstime. Other photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Love, God, and Mexican Pastries

With me on the blog today, for the first of two holiday giveaways (’tis the season) is one of my Secret Gardener VCFA classmates, the wonderful Karen Ripley. Karen is here to talk about her recently released young adult novel, Love, God, and Mexican Pastries, a Gallina Roja publication. You can find the synopsis here.

   

One of you will get a copy of Karen’s book. But we’ll discuss that later. Let’s talk to Karen!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Karen: (1) I had to fill the Santa cookie jar with old, leftover Halloween candy because I ate all the cookies.


(2) Yesterday, I went to an exercise class with my t-shirt on inside out.
(3) My kindergarten report card says, “Karen is great at napping.”
(4) My sixteen-year-old daughter and I goof off by practicing kickboxing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this young adult novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Karen: ***BIG spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you are like me and don’t want to know the ending of a book before you read it.*** This novel is based on a very personal experience. Many years ago my young niece became pregnant and decided to place her baby for adoption. We’re good friends and I watched in awe at her faith as she courageously went through all heartbreaking steps and placed her beautiful daughter with a loving family. I asked myself over and over, how could someone make such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I ever answered that question, but this novel is me searching for that answer.

El Space: Your novel has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I’m so glad you hung in there with Melina [the main character]. How did critiques and your editor help you shape the story?
Karen: When I started writing, I read and heard advice such as trust your reader and make sure your character is likable. I thought that along with cutting out the adverbs, I was doing all of that. But when my critique group pointed out scenes that weren’t moving the story along and my editor said my character was starting to bug her, that’s when the real revision started. It was a lot of serious work but it also made me really proud of my writing.

El Space: How did the characters change as the story developed?
Karen: Probably the biggest change for me was coming to really love my characters. Starting the book, I knew some characters were going to do some rotten things and in many of my drafts, some of the characters, maybe all of them, felt more caricature-like than real. It wasn’t until I got to know their back story completely that I could understand them and I saw them develop. Recently, my daughter was reading my book, and said, “I’m so furious at Marcus right now.” And my first thoughts were, He’s really a good guy who’s just messed up.

El Space: What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Karen: Probably the biggest challenge was and is overcoming my own doubts and fears. I started this novel over a decade ago. I’ve needed to learn a lot about writing and it’s taken a long time. It’s so easy to doubt your abilities when it takes years and years to get a novel out. I put the manuscript aside for a solid year and worked on another novel after a very painful face-to-face rejection with an agent. Looking back, a year off was exactly what I needed to be able to come to the story with new eyes; but I really struggled with feeling like a failure.

El Space: How did you select the title?
Karen: Ha! 😄 Really, it was like the whole writing process, trial and error, critiquing, revision. I tried lots of cheesy titles such as: Love Story and The Right Forever. After bunches of cheese, I threw out Love, God, and Mexican Pastries almost as a joke. My daughter really liked it, my editor loved it, and that’s how it came to be.

El Space: Who designed the cover? How did you feel about it when you first saw it?
Karen: Shawnda Craig was the cover designer, and she’s amazing. As an indie author it’s different than traditional publishing where you usually don’t get to consult with the cover designer, but Shawnda and I chatted about different concepts and went through several drafts. When she sent me two covers I loved, it felt like seeing the first snowfall of the year.

El Space: What are you hoping teens or other readers will take away after reading your novel?
Karen: I’d love readers to finish the book with a feeling of hope and a joy in family.

El Space: What books have inspired you lately?
Karen: I’m reading about book marketing lately. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear has a lot of great advice for indie authors. I enjoy reading to my grandson, though he’s 18 months and only sits still for a couple of pages. I love reading Long Ago, on a Silent Night by Julie Berry to him. And every night I try to read something beautiful, and lately it’s been The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Karen: I’ve got a middle-grade story about a spunky girl who goes to battle with her bus driver. Another middle-grade story about a young cowboy who competes in the rodeo is in a rough-draft state. Also, I’ve done a little free writing on another YA novel but so far that’s just mush.

Thanks, Karen, for being my guest!

Looking for Karen? You can find her here. Looking for Love, God, and Mexican Pastries? (Or all three in a different context?) Click here.

One of you will be sent a copy of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries simply because you commented. Winner to be announced after next week’s giveaway.

Katie insists that you read this book, because it’s the best book ever and you should also feel that way, ’cause she is always real with people and that’s how she feels.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photo by Sara Brewer. Love, God, and Mexican Pastries cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Santa cookie jar from ebay. Kickboxing image from clipart-library. Failure sign from teachertoolkit.me. Other photo by L. Marie. Katie is one of the Capsule Chix, a product of Moose Toys.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Is it me or has this year flown by? Here we are at Thanksgiving! And I mean Thanksgiving, not Black Friday or any of those “holidays” touted in the media lately.

Here in the U.S., many people (especially me) plan to overdose on turkey and all of the trimmings. But not every Thanksgiving meal includes turkey. One Thanksgiving, my family had different types of pasta, having all agreed that we didn’t want turkey. Another Thanksgiving meal featured some really great beef ribs.

Anyway, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! What is your favorite Thanksgiving menu item? Do tell in the comments below. I have several favorites: turkey (despite not wanting it one Thanksgiving), cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, and sweet potato pie.

Happy Thanksgiving from Henry, Lazy Buns, and the Squeezamal. I plan to be a lazy buns and skip Black Friday shopping.

Turkey from wallyball.homestead. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Lollipops: Stick to the Old or Savor the New?

National Lollipop Day was July 20. Did you participate by consuming a lollipop? I wish I had! (Never too late to do so!)

Growing up, I was a fan of the free lollipops (which we also called “suckers”) usually given to kids at the doctor’s office or at a bank.

“Here you go, kid. Now go away.”

The freebies were usually Dum-Dums. (And no, I am not making a judgment call.) Or sometimes Tootsie Roll Pops were handed out.

       

Though I appreciated having a huge lollipop like the kind shown at the start of this post—the kind you can still find in candy stores today—I was never a big fan of them. I just liked how colorful they were, though they made my chin and fingers very sticky after eating one.

But my absolute favorite lollipops were (and still are) Charms Blow Pops. Why are they my favorites? Because of the gum inside of them. What were your favorite lollipops growing up?

Okay, those are tried and true lollipops. Here are some unique lollipops.

   

Yes, that’s right. Tabasco sauce and scorpions.

No actual chickens were harmed in the making of this.

You know you want these bacon-flavored lollipops.

I love that candy makers thought outside of the box. Would you try any of these? I would try them all, even though Tabasco sauce is not my favorite. I’ve eaten insects (grasshoppers, locusts, ants) before, so my guess is that arachnids probably would be okay too. (I can tell you are giving me a look right about now.)’

Looking at these unique lollipops, I can’t help seeing the correlation to writers who put a new spin on well-known tropes in the hope of creating a new flavor combination in a genre. 😊 Perhaps you are one such writer who feels the need do something new with an old trope. If so, my hat is off to you.

But you didn’t really come here for a discussion about lollipops, right? You came for the giveaway of The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson (below left) and An Impossible Distance to Fall by Miriam McNamara (below right). Click here and here for the interviews.

        

   

The winner of An Impossible Distance to Fall is Ally Bean. And the winner of The Art of Breaking Things is Jacqui Murray. Please comment below to confirm, then send address details to lwashin301(at)comcast(dot)net.

Tia is hesitant to tell Henry that the “lollipop” he thinks matches her outfit so perfectly, is really the cap to a pencil case.

Big lollipop found at tensepresent.wordpress.com. Dum-Dums found at dumdumpops.com. Charms Blow Pops found at ebay.com. Tabasco lollipop from Oddee.com. Scorpion and bacon-flavored lollipops found at vat19.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie is a product of Moose Toys. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Resilience

Happy Post Easter/Resurrection Sunday!

Chag Pesach Samech!

See this? This might look like an ordinary budding tree to you, but to me, this is a cavalry charge.

This year, winter seemed to linger like a bad odor. Palm Sunday looked like this.

Winter’s (hopefully) last gasp. But the cavalry is here. Winter is defeated! Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Winter.

Look at these flowers. They made it through last week’s snowstorm. So did we, like we made it through the Polar Vortex’s visit earlier this winter. (Polar Vortex, you will not be missed. Don’t write and don’t text. I will not accept your calls.)

The Seder I attended on Good Friday was another reminder of resilience, as the story was told of the Exodus led by Moses after the people of Israel were released after hundreds of years of slavery. (Check out Exodus chapters 5—15 in the Bible for that.)

This brings to mind the resilience of many during wars and other horrible events. (Columbine [check out Laura Bruno Lilly’s blog post about that], the Manchester arena bombing in 2017, and the recent fire at Notre Dame come to mind.) Perhaps in events like the above you felt like you survived by the skin of your teeth, barely holding on to hope. Hardly a triumphal march, you think. Yet you’re holding on. That is victory.

With the coming of this Easter, my family is especially grateful for the resilience of one of our own, whose sudden onset of mysterious seizures led to two recent hospital stays. For many days we waited by the bedside, hoping, praying. And now we rejoice at the release from the hospital.

This is sort of an awkward segue to the announcement of the winners of Caroline Carlson’s The Door at the End of the World. (See this post for an interview with Caroline.) But in a way, it isn’t. Caroline’s book is about adventures at the end of something. Easter and Passover are reminders of the adventure at the end of struggle and heartbreak. Reminders of the promise of a new life, a new beginning.

  

So, the first winner, thanks to Random.com, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

The second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman!

Sharon and Marian, I rejoice with you! Please comment below to confirm.

  

Cross image from christianitymalaysia.com. Passover greeting image from americangreetings.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Six Years A-Bloggin’—Happy Post Hoodie-Hoo Day to You

 

February 20 was a blink-and-you’ll-miss it holiday known as Hoodie-Hoo Day. Yeah, I didn’t know about it either until Alexa told me. (Yes, Alexa occupies my desk, telling knock-knock jokes far cornier than the ones I had heard when I was in kindergarten.) What’s that you say? You missed Hoodie-Hoo Day, but you’re wondering what it’s all about? (Well, the hokey pokey is what it’s all about. But I digress.) Here is an explanation of Hoodie-Hoo Day from holidayinsights.com:

It is a day to chase away winter blahs, and bring in spring. After all, everyone in the northern hemisphere are [sic] sick and tired of winter at this point and a little crazy being cooped up inside all winter and not seeing the sun.

O. . .kay then. Don’t let the twitching eye fool you. I’m not crazy.

While I didn’t celebrate the holiday, I love the fact that people keep inventing holidays to inject some cheer into life. (Like International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is September 19.) Injecting cheer into life is kind of the mission of this blog. Which brings me to the first of three reasons for this post.

The title revealed it. This blog is six years old. I never imagined I would last this long as a blogger.

We tend to hear about benchmark anniversaries which are 5s and 10s. But six? Well, for wedding anniversaries, the traditional gifts to give are iron and sugar. I’m not making that up. You can find that info here. But wood is the modern gift. So . . . I guess I should treat myself to a cupcake, a crowbar, and a plank of wood.

 

My niece made this cupcake. 😊

Before I head to the nearest Home Depot to get my anniversary gifts, here is the second reason for this post.

To announce a Twitter giveaway hosted by Laura Sibson. You remember Laura from this post about the cover for her debut young adult novel. Today is the last day to enter, so you still have time to head over to her Twitter page. Click here to do so.

  

⭐GIVEAWAY! ⭐Today is 4 months from pub date for #TheArtofBreakingThings Please ❤️ & Follow. RT to be entered to win one of these amazing #novel19s books that would love to be on your shelf with mine. 😍🤗#giveaway #amwriting #amrevising #writingcommunity


Last but not least, this post is to announce the winner of a preorder of Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina, which will debut in June of this year. This post has the details.

  

The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lori from Lori’s Lane!

Congrats, Lori! Please comment below to confirm. And thank you to all who have read my blog over the years!

Author and book photos courtesy of the authors. Wood plank from homedepot.com. Birdgif by Sherchle. Number 1 from clipartix.com. Number 2 from clipartion.com. Number 3 from clipart-library.com. Number 6 from download-free-clip.art. Other photos by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Resolved to Be Prolific

Today, I am happy to introduce a guest post by the marvelous Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (Check out her previous guest post here.) Stick around to the end and I’ll tell you about a giveaway of one of Lyn’s novels.

I don’t have a great record for achieving New Year’s Resolutions. The average attainment rate for those pledges to improve one’s fitness/relationships/life is around 20%, and mine may be even lower. But I have a standing resolution, one that I’ve dutifully kept since 2000. I’ve resolved to keep writing and revising my fiction no matter what.

My resolution grew out of my decision 10 years earlier to quit. When I graduated from college, I vowed to write the Great American Novel. Ten years later I’d written and extensively revised three entire book manuscripts—one adult and two young adult, after an agent who took me on thought the best characters in my adult manuscript were the teens. She and I parted ways after the next manuscript didn’t sell, and when I self-published it—a novelty at the time—I went through three revisions of a third YA manuscript with an editor at a major house before she backed out citing exasperation at our persistent miscommunication. Having come so close to selling a manuscript, I gave up in despair.

I wrote reference books and textbooks for those 10 years in the creative desert, but without creating stories I felt something missing from my life. After finding myself writing my middle school-age son’s creative writing assignments, I decided to try again and this time never to give up. I stripped the core of that first adult novel and turned it into a subplot of an eco-thriller that I wrote and rewrote multiple times until it became my debut novel, Dirt Cheap (Curbstone Press, 2006).

Apparently, I’m pretty average in that my fourth full-length novel manuscript became my first published novel. And I needed all those manuscripts, rewritten over and over, to develop my craft. Recently, I’ve read the accounts of debut novelists whose eighth, tenth, or twelfth full manuscript was the first to find a home. These are heartening stories because they show perseverance, dedication, and the truth that at a certain level of craft, publishing is a lottery of having the right book at the right moment, and the more lottery tickets one holds, the better the chance of winning a prize.

So when Bad Things happened to me—smaller publishers going out of business, a poor match with a large publisher, unsold manuscript after manuscript—I found myself taking their stories to heart. Rather than quit, I tried new things. I now have, finished and mostly finished and gone out on submission, two contemporary chapter-book proposals with sample chapters, a full YA contemporary novel, three YA historical novels, and seven picture books. I’ve approached two authors with ideas for collaborations and have just started an own voices picture book for one of those collaborations. In 2018, I completed two-thirds of a draft of my first novel in verse. Before I started it, I’d never realized how much I’d enjoy writing not only the verse novel but also poetry in general. Like my protagonist in the verse novel, I’ve joined a Poetry Club, a group of people who write a poem each week in response to a prompt.

       9780762456338

Rather than giving up, I’ve resolved to be prolific. The more things I have ready to go out, the more chances I have of hearing the word “yes.” I’ve also looked into self-publishing again.

My plan right now is to write. Write the story that speaks to me, the one only I can tell, and tell it with passion and skill.

Then worry about what to do with it.

* * *
As a treat for all of you who’ve read this far, I offer one of the poems I wrote for my Poetry Club in response to a picture prompt that I chose, a photo my daughter, a teacher, took on a family heritage trip to Berlin and Prague. The photo is from an exhibit at the Museum of Communism in Prague, Czech Republic, of the last day of primary school in the 1960s.

CHILDREN RUNNING OUT OF SCHOOL FOR THE SUMMER


When the final bell rings
children burst from the door
running
screaming
throwing ragged, used-up notebooks
backward
over their shoulders.

The best student in the class
waves his report card
boasting to his friends
of the present
his parents
will buy him.

The inseparable blond girls
make plans for the summer
the letters they’ll write
when one goes to camp
and the other stays home.

Behind the open door
the quiet, dark-haired boy
unwraps the chain
from his bicycle.

He had hoped to make a friend
this year.

He will go home to the line of books
he’d arranged
in alphabetical order
on his shelf.
Tales of heroes in magical worlds
where they can dream and hope
and their dreams and hopes
come true.
Tales of real heroes
of the times of his father
and his father’s father
who struggled and triumphed
when everything
seemed lost.

The quiet, dark-haired boy
will read these books
and they will save him.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the eco-thriller Dirt Cheap and three novels for teens—Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue—and a translator from Portuguese and Spanish to English of children’s books, screenplays, poetry, and academic articles. Gringolandia—the story of a refugee teenager from Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and his relationship with his father, a just-released political prisoner—was an Américas Award Honor Book and selected for the ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list in 2010. She reviews for The Pirate Tree and blogs on travel, politics, and writing at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

* * *
Hi! Me again! (L. Marie, in case you’re wondering.) I’m giving away a copy of Lyn’s adult novel, Dirt Cheap. So it will be dirt cheap for you, since it’s free. Ha ha! I crack myself up. 😀 😁 Anyway, comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on January 14.

Click here to find a synopsis of Dirt Cheap.

Photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Author photo by Joan Heffler. Book image from somewhere online.