Finish Well

One of the things I find fascinating about The Great British Baking Show (as it is known here in the States because of Pillsbury; it is The Great British Bake Off where it originated) is the fact that you can win the accolade of Star Baker—the best baker—in one week of the competition and be sent home crying in another. It’s what you do each week of the competition that counts—particularly the final week. (Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers.) You can see this scenario played out in any of the series on Netflix (or wherever you watch the show). So, winning Star Baker is not an iron-clad guarantee that you will win the whole competition.

A good motto for the show is, “What have you done for me lately?” On this show, you can’t coast on your laurels. You have to prove yourself every week to the very end.

This is the concept of finishing well. Haven’t you’ve seen Olympic runners tragically stumble before crossing the finish line, or a gymnast execute a perfect tumbling run only to stumble out of bounds—or worse—fall and injure himself or herself? And how many of us have mourned when our favorite sports team choked in the last minutes or the last game of the championship?

And who can forget the hoopla surrounding the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones—a show highly favored until the last season?

I’ve read book trilogies and viewed movie trilogies with endings that disappointed me to the point where I wished I’d never started the journey in the first place. Have you? Some of the trilogies I’ve regretted reading had endings that felt rushed or tacked on. In all fairness, the downside of some publishing efforts is that some authors spend years on the first book but are only given a matter of months to finish the second and the third.

And I know: art is subjective. The same trilogies I’ve disliked were liked by many people. You can’t please everybody! But there are some series with endings so satisfying, they have become regular destinations for me. One of those is The Lord of the Rings. Another is Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, not the movie). (I realize that fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea. 😀)

I’m impressed by the fact that the Avatar series creators, Michael Dante DiMartino (right) and Bryan Konietzko, knew the ending of their series well before that season ever aired. In Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Art of the Animated Series (Dark Horse Books, 2010), DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko explain what happened during a meeting they attended to discuss the show:

We pitched for over two hours, describing the four nations, the entire story arc—all three seasons’ worth (12).

So, before the show was ever greenlit, they knew what was going to happen. And the show ended pretty much on par with that pitch meeting. Many fans and critics agree that this series is one of the best animated series ever made. Ending the series took four episodes! But it was one of the most satisfying endings to a series I have ever seen.

 

Finishing well is definitely not an easy undertaking. If you’ve ever run a race, you know that your strength begins to flag before you reach the end. When my brother ran the Chicago marathon, he said that around mile 20, he was ready to quit. But he tapped into a well of determination to cross that finish line. (We enjoyed some great snacks when he did. 😄)

The road to finishing well begins with finishing what you started. But that’s just the beginning, especially in writing! For many who have written a story, an article, or any book, you know that finishing a draft leads you to the beginning of another journey—that of revision. But revising helps you finish well.

What do you do to ensure that you finish a story or some other project well? What series have you read that finished well?

Finish line image from the intentionallife.com. Mile 20 image from Wikimedia. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko image from Toonzone. Avatar book photos by L. Marie.

The Visionary

The other day, I glanced over at Lazy Buns (her actual name, yes; and no, I didn’t come up with it), still in bathrobe and curler mode, and realized I had the same attitude about the world building I had not yet completed for a middle grade science fiction novel I’m writing. There was so much work yet to do, but I was feeling lazy.

“Join meeeeeeee,” Lazy Buns hissed in her best Darth Vader imitation, a voice incongruent with her small stature.

To snap out of the trance I’d fallen into, I turned to some behind-the-scenes DVD documentaries. I’ve mentioned before that I love documentaries on the creative process. I’m particularly fascinated by authors and filmmakers who envision possibilities not previously foreseen, even in the face of criticism. We think of them as visionaries.

The other day, I watched one of the documentaries on the Attack of the Clones DVD. I’ll pause here to give anyone who hates this film the opportunity to judge me for having it (or if you love it, to praise my good taste). . . . Are we done? Moving on . . . in the documentary, George Lucas talked about the challenge of working in a new medium called digital technology. According to this Red Shark News article:

George Walton Lucas, Jr., entrepreneurial filmmaker, creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones and industrial empire builder, drop-kicked Hollywood into the digital age with the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones—the first major Hollywood blockbuster to be shot 100% digitally.

Keep in mind this film came about in the early part of this century. We take digital filmmaking for granted nowadays. But Lucas took a lot of criticism for going the digital route. After all, digital was nontraditional. But nontraditional thinking is the mark of a visionary.

Lucas pushed his staff beyond where they thought they could go to achieve the vision he saw in his head. This was par for the course for Star Wars, a franchise that sailed in uncharted waters when it first debuted.

The Star Wars franchise is very controversial these days. Fans are divided over the current crop of movies, now owned by Disney. And let’s face it, even when Lucas had control of the company, fans complained then too. But few people debate the fact that George Lucas is a visionary writer-director. You can see that if you take just a cursory look at the world he created.

For years I have also been inspired by book authors  like Ursula Le Guin, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Frank Herbert, Charles Yallowitz, and others whose expansive worlds I’ve visited again and again. They remind me that world building takes time and effort—two words that are contrary to my current lazy bones attitude.

 

 

So I have an attitude to shake off. Here I go—back to researching galaxies, designing star systems and the terrain of planets.

Sigh. I need cake.

What fantasy or science fiction worlds do you love to visit? If you aren’t into either, who is someone you consider to be a visionary?

George Lucas photo found somewhere in the internet. Dune cover from Goodreads, since I can’t seem to locate anything I own of this series. Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster from inquisitr.com. Cake from clker.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Pop Hair Pets are a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Peanut Butter Falcon—Dream a Little Dream

This past weekend, a friend and I headed to the theater to see a movie neither of us knew much about: The Peanut Butter Falcon, which was written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. (Don’t worry. There are no spoilers in this post.) Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson are the stars of this drama/adventure. Though Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson are more well known and are very compelling in this, the main draw of the film is Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome—only the second time I’ve seen representation onscreen like this, the first being a TV show called Life Goes On. Zack plays Zak (yes, Zak), a young man who fervently hopes to become a professional wrestler, a fact you learn in the trailer.

The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival this past March. As my friend and I discussed the movie afterward, we talked about how these days we’ve seldom seen such a heartfelt journey story, one that critics describe as Mark Twain-esque—a very apt description. We were impressed by the messages of the film—follow your dreams; treat others with grace and dignity even if it means going the extra mile for that person. (By the way, what dream are you following?)

In a day when many are pilloried on social media, and spewing hateful comments is deemed a fundamental right, I can’t help being inspired by a pair of director/writers who chose to present an alternative to negativity. (Click here to see an interview with the actors.)

I can’t think of a better segue to a giveaway of some books by Jill Weatherholt, an author whose goal also is to provide an alternative to negativity. I interviewed her in my last post, which you can find here.

   

The winner of A Mother for His Twins (which would sound really funny if you heard someone say this out of context) is Lyn!

The winners of the Autumn Hearts anthology are Charles and Clare!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Having been inspired by The Peanut Butter Falcon, Tia Tigerlily has made a practice of giving at least one affirmation a day to her mini-me, whose dream is to own a flower shop someday.

Peanut Butter Falcon poster from justjared.com. Book covers from Jill Weatherholt and Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Jill Weatherholt. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.

Check This Out: An Impossible Distance to Fall

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

   

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

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


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


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

Miriam at her book signing at MOON PALACE BOOKS in Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks, Miriam, for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

Check This Out: The Art of Breaking Things

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

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

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

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

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

     

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

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

 

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

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

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

Quiz Time!


Who doesn’t love a good quiz?? (If you don’t, just play along.) For each question below, choose the color attached to the answer that best fits you: Pink [P]; Blue [B]; Green [G]; Red [R]; Orange [O]. You can only make one choice for each question. Ready?

1. Favorite season of the year


A. Spring                                                B
B. Summer                                             R
C. Fall                                                     O
D. Winter                                                G
E. Any season with televised sports       P

2. Movie you enjoyed recently
A. Aladdin                                                           R
B. Avengers: Endgame                                       P
C. Anything on the Hallmark Channel                 B
D. John Wick 3                                                    O
E. None of the above                                          G

  

3. Most pleasing shape (in your opinion)
A. Circle                     R
B. Pretzel                   O
C. Parallelogram        G
D. Square                   P
E. Diamond                B

4. Convenience you absolutely cannot live without
A. Microwave                 O
B. Phone/computer        P
C. Television                  R
D. Dishwasher               B
E. Car                            G

5. Philosophy that is a good fit for you right now
A. The wheels on the bus go round and round. R
B. To thine own self be true.                              G
C. Sunshine? I’m good.                                     O
D. Live and let live.                                            P
E. I never met a coupon I didn’t love.                B

Mostly Pink [P]? Click here.
Mostly Blue [B]? Click here.
Mostly Green [G]? Click here.
Mostly Red [R]? Click here.
Mostly Orange [O]? Click here.
Rainbow assortment? Click here.

Okay. Maybe you’re ready to hurl stones at me. But did you really think a quiz I made up had deep insight into your psyche?

Or perhaps you’d hoped the quiz would lead to something a little more entertaining, like the Buzzfeed quizzes, which dole out fun facts about yourself or confirm your greatness by comparing you to a popular superhero.

But a quiz can’t really convince you and me how great we are if we don’t really believe that going in. Hence the final destination of the above quiz. I hope you already know who you are—someone wonderful, inspiring, and brave, even if you don’t always believe that.

Quiz image from clker.com. Sunshine from clipartpanda.com. John Wick 3 poster from movieweb.com. Avengers: Endgame movie poster from impawards.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

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.