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.

Mentors

Do you have a mentor? Many people talk about the need for one in fiction and in real life. Before I ever had one, I remember having an idealistic view of what having a mentor would involve—someone who offered sage advice and remained in your life for years. But my experiences with mentors have been mostly brief.

In fiction, the mentor is one of the archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey breakdown, which was popularized by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. The mentor has one job:

The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to accept the adventure.

(The above quote came from this site. I have Vogler’s book, but can’t find it right now. This photo of the book is one I took awhile ago and had in my WordPress library of photos.)

In real life, the mentor has a similar task. As an undergraduate, I had a professor whom I thought of as a mentor: Leon Forrest, who also was a literary novelist, which gave him serious street cred in my book. I wanted to be just like him. But as is the case with many mentors in a hero’s journey story, he died at the start of my writer’s journey. 😢

After that, I had some growing up to do as a writer. As you know, part of the growing up process involves figuring out who you are and who you’re not. After my days as an English lit/writing major, I quickly learned that the literary track—the one paved with GANs (Great American Novels) for adults—was not for me. Instead, I gravitated toward writing for children and young adults. Ironic, huh, that by growing up I would discover a commitment to writing for kids.

In my grad program, which was chosen after I came to the realization of where I belong, I was given four advisors—four mentors if you will. (They’re all still alive by the way. I’m sure they’re relieved on that score. Thankfully, many mentors live.) But each was given only a six-month stretch to help me on the journey to graduation (though I tried to cling to them all after graduation). While in the program, I also had a student mentor—someone who had been in the program for a while and could help me navigate the journey. But she graduated soon after I arrived at the school.

Today I am seemingly mentorless. Seemingly, because I realize I have a Mentor, one whom I meet every day in prayer. He’d been there all along, even in the days when I yearned for significance as a GAN (Great American Novelist).

The fact that I have been mentored gave me the desire to be a mentor to some young writers. Though some preferred only a brief stint as my mentee, I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a mentor, however briefly. And I never once called anyone Padawan.

If you’re not currently a mentor or are without one, do you think you’d like to be one or at least have one? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of War of Nytefall: Rivalry by Charles Yallowitz, which this post discusses.

 

That winner, according to the random.org generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congratulations, Lyn! Comment below to confirm.

Henry is torn between two possible mentors: the ever exciting Malik or the always chill Olive. My advice? When in doubt, have ice cream.

Frog-shaped mint ice cream is the best!

Divine Days book cover from Amazon. War of Nytefall: Rivalry book cover and author photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Mentor memes from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

In the Meadow We Can Build a Snowman . . .

Or we can try. With the recent snowfall in my area (another six inches of goodness), I gave snowman building a shot. (See photos below. . . . What’s that? You’re having trouble seeing a white-on-white image? Perhaps I should title it White Cat in a Snowstorm.) But the snow was too powdery and refused to pack. According to an internet article by Karen Sassone, “The Physics of a Snowball,” the snow was too cold for snowman building. (Wrap your mind around that!)

   

Henry’s snowman is coming along much better. And small wonder. He’s a yeti. Snow is supposed to be his element. Though camouflage, sadly, is not. He thinks you can’t see him in this snow. Please humor him and say you can’t.

   

With such snowy days upon us here, my friend Sharon reminded me of the following poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, whose recent passing many of us mourn. Here’s a snippet of her poem. (You can find the whole poem here.)

First Snow

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.

Penny over at LifeontheCuffoff has a post with another of Mary Oliver’s poems here.

Even with a temperature drop down in the teens and below (Fahrenheit), sunny winter mornings still seem magical. Everything looks sharper.

  

Since I was curious about why that is so, I Googled and found an article entitled, “Cold winter nights offer clearer night skies.” Well, guess that says it all. But here is a quote from that article:

[C]old air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can. Hence, on many nights in the summer, the warm moisture-laden atmosphere causes the sky to appear hazier. By day it is a milky, washed-out blue, which in winter becomes a richer, deeper and darker shade of blue.

So there you have it! Still, I can’t help feeling like I’m in a Van Gogh painting when I contemplate the winter clouds and breathe the crisp, cold air

Title based on “Winter Wonderland” lyrics by Richard B. Smith. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Joy to the World!

Joy to the world
Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

It’s Christmas Eve! I don’t want to take up too much of your time. As promised, I will reveal the winners of the books discussed in this post in which I featured books by Sarah Aronson, Stephen Bramucci, and Melanie Crowder.

First up, Sarah Aronson. She has two books, but the winner will receive one.

   

The winner of a preorder of Just Like Rube Goldberg is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller -Lachmann—Author, Editor, Teacher!

Next is Stephen Bramucci.

   

The winner of The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts! is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman—Plain and Fancy!

Last but not least is Melanie Crowder.

   

The winner of The Lighthouse between the Worlds is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy—City Jackdaw!

Winners, please comment below to confirm! Let me know if you would like a printed copy or an eBook.

Happy holidays!

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

“A Crack in Everything”—In Partial Fulfillment of the 3 Quotes 3 Days Thingie

Laura Bruno Lilly nominated me for the 3 Quotes 3 Days Blogger Tag Thingie (not its official title). Thank you, Laura! 😃 But I decided to break the rules and post a quote one day instead of three, and nominate anyone who wants to do it (or not do it). Laura’s post with the rules can be found here, for those of you who are rule followers. (Blessings be upon your heads.)

On with the quote:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen from “Anthem”

If you’re scratching your head, wondering what Cohen meant by those words, there’s no better explanation than the one he offers. You can find that here.

I chose it because I totally get the “crack in everything.” I remember as a kid, bemoaning what I thought was my lack of a perfect smile because of a gap between my front teeth. And as a teen, I worried about having “chicken legs” (a description given to them by a guy I once liked romantically, but later didn’t) instead of the perfectly sculpted ones others seemed to have. And then as an adult, I could not seem to produce the “perfect offering” novel-wise that would be rejection proof. 😀

Sometimes life reminds you that the hope of reaching perfection, or sorrowing over the lack of that state, is a waste of time. Granted, I’m not advocating, “So don’t try at all.” Instead, I think Leonard said it best:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering

On a less-than-perfect cloudy day, these daffodils gracefully bending in the wind were a lovely reminder of the beauty to be had even in imperfection.

Babette is babysitting. Not sure who would trust her to do that.

Liberty Bell photo from en.wikipedia.org. Leonard Cohen photo from fanpop.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Keep Calm and Sparkle On!

Hey, everyone! With me on the blog today is the always charming, super splendid Sarah Aronson. She’s here to talk about the second book in her Wish List series, Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The interview with Sarah about her first book in the series can be found here.) Keep Calm and Sparkle On! was published by Scholastic on December 26. Sarah is represented by Sarah Davies.

   

Now, grab the pastry of your choice, get comfy, and let’s talk to Sarah!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sarah: (1) People think I’m tough, but I’m totally a softie. I cry at the end of almost every book and movie! Forget about standing ovations! I’m a mess!
(2) I once deadlifted 300 pounds. (Just once. And I’ll never do it again.)

El Space: Amazing! 🤗 🤩
Sarah: (3) I started writing on a dare!
(4) After scoring Hamilton tickets, I ran out the door and promptly fell into a sewer! Luckily, my elbow stopped me from going too far. I was so excited about the tickets that I climbed out with no loss of shoes, jumped on my bike, and rode to work, leaving a bloody trail behind me.

El Space: Oh my goodness! 😱 Glad you were okay. . . . And here you are at book 2 of your fairy godmother series. How much of the series did you plan in advance, before you began writing the first book? Did you plan for a certain number of books or were you leaving it open to inspiration?
Sarah: I just sent my editor the draft of the fourth and final book! From the beginning, we knew we wanted four—for four levels of training. I have loved every minute of the process. I thought of the series like a pop song: verse, verse, bridge, verse!

Book 3

This is what I can tell you about writing a series: You have to trust your subconscious! And always leave space for the characters to impose themselves on the story.

Yes, I planned ahead. But I also took Annie Dillard’s advice and “spent it all” in every single book. While revising each book, I had epiphanies. Details found their way into the story—and I didn’t always have time to think them through before starting the next book. As it turned out, those details became the keys to the inevitable and surprising ending of the series. They helped me figure out what I wanted to say in each book.

Book 1

El Space: What was one of the most fun aspects of writing this second book?
Sarah: The DRAMA! Growing up, I loved theater! When I took that dare to write, I teamed up with a musical friend and wrote three plays for my daughter and her friends. One of the plays was called, The Secret of the Magic Wishing Well, so I have been thinking about wishes for a long time. I incorporated some of the details of that play into the story. I also used theater to say something about the pressure many kids feel when they are constantly treated like professionals when they could be just having fun. As a director, I did not do that. I limited my players to ten rehearsals. As a writer, I was happy to use the tension that happens when friends are forced to compete!

El Space: Many authors have playlists of songs that remind them of their characters. Thinking of the characters in your book, what songs would be on your playlist?
Sarah: I may have structured my series like a pop song, but I don’t make playlists. When I need inspiration, I walk by Lake Michigan. Or I doodle. Or ride my bike. I love music from the Beatles to the Cure to classical and jazz, but it’s not really part of my writing process.

   

El Space: You’ve been given a magic wand, giving you the ability to grant someone a wish. What wish would you grant if you could, and why?
Sarah: If I could make a wish for the world, I would have to start with more wishes! First, I would bring back trust in objectivity—in the truth. Then I would give everyone a feeling of safety and security, and the confidence that comes with those feelings, so that we all can do our best work. Last, I would grant everyone access to the magic of books! When we read, we understand each other. We feel less afraid. We reach for higher goals that make our world better.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sarah: Pretty soon, I’ll be revising book four! I’m also working on some picture book manuscripts as well as a super secret project that is making me happily ever after. I love having a peach sorbet—a project that is just for me! No one’s waiting for it. No one even knows what it’s about. One of my goals for 2018 is to finish it and show it to my agent and critique group!

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

Looking for Sarah? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Keep Calm and Sparkle On! can be found at

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

But one of you will find a copy of this book in your mailbox or on your tablet! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced on January 15.

Olive the Ostrich believes she would be an excellent recipient of magical wishes. Just putting it out there for any fairy godmothers in the area.

Wish List book covers courtesy of Sarah Aronson. Hamilton image from phxstages.blogspot.com. Lake Michigan photo from livescience.com. Beatles album cover from amiright.com. Magic wand from clker.com. Olive photo by L. Marie.