What Is My Song This Season?

Anyone else feeling the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobblyness*** of the passing days? Hours seem like seconds. And if I don’t check my calendar, I lose track of days. (Feels like tomorrow already.) Anyway. . . .

Whenever we’re not bombarded with snow in my area (which has happened a few times lately), and the temperature is reasonably warm, I hear birdsong throughout the day. Lately, the various songs and sounds of birds have seemed so plentiful and joyous. Which got me to wondering , ..

Can you identify the bird based on each call? (Pretty sure you can.)

1.

2.

3.

(For answers, check the **** below.)

Some bird calls are more recognizable than others. I’ve enjoyed hearing the birds’ songs and conversations. Such normal, happy sounds. Maybe they’re happy, not only for spring and mating season, but because they don’t have to think about viruses or masks or long wait times at the grocery store.

But hearing them caused me to wonder what my song is in this season. Some days, it is the sound of irritation, frustration, and fear, like raucous notes banged on a piano. My inner territory is too narrowed by circumstances, my song too one note. I want to change the tune, even if circumstances don’t change anytime soon. The best way I know how is to pray and to look outward instead of inward, to lighten someone else’s load if I know how, or brighten someone’s day. One way I can do the latter is to give away stuff.

With that in mind, onto the winner of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Go here for the interview.

       

And that winner, according to the random number generator is Nancy Hatch!

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

Sparrow from Orange Free Sounds. Loon sound from Archive.org. Robin call from SoundBible.com. cloudcentrics.com. Bird silhouette from clipart-library.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

***If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you recognize this.
**** The sounds are (in order) Robin, loon, sparrow

Check This Out: The Edge of Anything

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.

  

Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.

 

El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.

Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.

El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?

El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.

El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.

El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!

Looking for Nora? Click below:

            .

Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.

 

In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.

The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

String-Pulling Bees and Other Things I Didn’t Realize I Needed in My Life

I don’t know about you, but I crave a bit of normalcy, a bit of adorableness. And what’s more normal than scientists getting some bumblebees to pull strings? (Those bumblebees must have some influence if they’re pulling strings. Am I right? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

Anyway, I ran across this video at the SciNews YouTube Video and a follow-up—scientists teaching bees to roll balls—and was mesmerized. If only they could teach wasps to be kind. (If somehow the video disappears, click here for it.)

See? You needed it too, didn’t you? (For more info on the bumblebee experiment, conducted at Queen Mary University of London, click here.)

Recently, a friend sent photos of her newest acquisitions, which turned out to be something else I needed:

  

As I looked at the photos, I could feel my blood pressure drop and something broken within me starting to mend. Maybe you feel the same way.

This also made my day (photo below). Chalk art courtesy of the kids who live in my apartment building.

Also, I saw these at the grocery store. Maybe they’re not as essential as water or toilet paper, but they’re essential in a soul-building sort of way.

  

What have you seen this week that helped lift your spirits? Please share in the comments.

Farm animal photos by Colleen Yang. Other photos by L. Marie.

In the Chrysalis

Nothing says Spring like overnight snow.

 

Happy Spring!

When I think of Spring, I think of chrysalises/cocoons and the butterflies/moths that will emerge from these protective shells—the pupa stage. What I didn’t realize is that the shed skin of a pre-butterfly caterpillar hardens around it to form a chrysalis. But the caterpillar of a moth has to spin silk to make a cocoon to protect itself.

  

A challenging time like the one we’re facing now is a chrysalis from which we will all emerge at some point. Instead of shed skin or silk, the walls of our home are our borders, since many states have issued a stay-at-home order. Consequently, we’re going through a lot of different emotions: fear, anger, dread, despair—you name it. Many of us have felt the hardening effect of those emotions. I know I have. I’d much rather feel joy or peace. I know you would too.

What’s really helped me in these chrysalis days are texts from friends who write to encourage, share a funny meme, a song, or a Scripture like this:

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  [The next verse provides the answer.]

These daily check-ins remind me that I’m not alone, despite the social distancing mandate.

As a result of all that has happened, I mentioned in this post that I’m giving away two crocheted child Yodas like the one below. The winners of those crocheted child Yodas are Shari and Lyn!

Because of the state-mandated lockdown, I contacted the winners ahead of time so that I could get the Yodas in the mail to them before the 5 p.m. stay-at-home order went into effect this past Saturday. I am currently making two more Yodas. If you’d still like a Yoda, please email me or comment below. I will try to get them sent whenever I can.

Photos by L. Marie.

Nesting

A while ago, I watched Dancing with the Birds, a documentary on Netflix about the courting habits of male birds. One of those birds, the Macgregor’s bowerbird, is well known for building an elaborate bower to attract a mate. I love that! This bird uses sticks, leaves, rocks, and colorful objects to create the perfect bower. According to an article on the San Diego Zoo’s website, “Bowers are not nests.” They are really courting areas. The female is responsible for building a nest for offspring.

      

The male weaver bird has the same goal as the male bowerbird. This bird, however, builds an actual nest using a weaving technique. But some species of weaver birds build nests in a group and have their own little neighborhoods. (See this article for more info on these amazing builders.)

When you think of nesting, what do you think of? This?

Or, perhaps you think of the efforts that people awaiting the arrival of their babies go through to prepare their “nests” for their little ones. I think of that too, but I also think in general of someone making a home warm and cozy, particularly in the winter when the weather is too cold to venture out. Warm, soft fabrics of differing textures, conversational seating, adequate reading materials, and other comforts, come to mind (like the Anthropologie pillows in the photo below). I also think of having the essentials on hand (besides the usual food staples): coffee, tea, chocolate, and cookies.

Speaking of soft fabrics, I saw this pattern on Yarnspirations.com and immediately thought of nesting. Wouldn’t you love to be wrapped in something like this blanket below while lounging on the couch? No? Just me then? Perhaps I’ll make it someday.

In these days of enforced nesting, with many of us anchored to home, I have been choosing craft projects to do. Before I knew about the latest crisis worldwide, I stocked up on yarn.

Speaking of which, I have an unusual giveaway just because it’s nice to get free stuff every once in a while, especially in challenging times. If you’ve heard about or seen the Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, you know about this little guy:

I found a crochet pattern by Vivianne Russo online and have been making these. They are about five inches tall. I’m giving away two. Comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to receive one. Winners to be announced sometime next week!

Henry is nesting with his new friends, the Yodas (for want of a species name, this is what everyone is calling them) and their guardian unicorn.

Macgregor’s bowerbird and nest from somewhere on Pinterest. Weaver bird from network23.org. Crocheted blanket image from yarnspirations.com. Pillow from Anthropologie’s website. Other photos by L. Marie.

Pajama Party

When I was a kid, I loved a pajama party (or whatever euphemism you’re used to—sleepover or slumber party being the most common). I particularly loved going to my best friend’s house with my sleeping bag, pillow, and of course, my pajamas and slippers. My friends and I stayed up well past midnight, playing games like Twister, eating pizza and popcorn, and watching Svengoolie (Rich Koz) on TV (who featured really tame monster movies). After that, we’d tell ghost stories until we fell asleep, frightened out of our wits.

Mostly, I loved being with friends, away from my brothers (who hosted their own sleepovers in the tent in our backyard). I also loved the coziness of sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag and the convenience of having junk food within reach. (My BFF’s mom was very hospitable and hooked us up with snacks on the hour.) So, coziness, camaraderie, and convenience are three words that come to mind when I think about pajama parties.

Those words also come to mind when I consider why I love mystery books, especially those written by Agatha Christie—one of the queens of the cozy mystery. I love plots that involve people spending at least one night at a remote estate—the ultimate sleepover. Thinking of mysteries causes me to add a fourth C to the list—clues. The amateur detective, who of course is among those invited to the gathering, has to solve the mystery based on conveniently placed clues. But the clues that seem the most obvious are often red herrings placed to lead the detective astray. “Curiouser and curiouser,” Alice from Alice in Wonderland would say (to add a fifth word beginning with C to the list). (By the way, did you know that Lewis Carroll coined the word curiouser? Check this out.)

While I haven’t been to a pajama party in ages, I can always attend one vicariously, whenever I pick up a cozy mystery.

What’s your favorite cozy mystery?

  

Everyone agreed that the highlight of the sleepover was when the uninvited T-Rex sneaked in to wreak havoc, but wound up staying and having a good time when the bunny started telling ghost stories.

Pajama party image from fbccranbrook.org. Son of Svengoolie from Pinterest. Book cover from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Pop Hair Pets are a product of MGA Entertainment. The T-Rex came from Bath & Body Works.

Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.

Lemons

Have you ever bitten into a lemon? I did once, when I was a kid. Note the word once. I quickly realized that some fruit have a taste other than sweet.

Now, I realize that many people love to eat lemons. (My mother for instance.) And this article talks about the benefits of eating lemons: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefit-eating-whole-fresh-lemons-4390.html

Yet I prefer my lemons paired with other things: sugar and water in lemonade; sugar, water, and tea for iced tea; or sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients in lemon meringue pie or lemon bars. Even the lemon candy I like is of the sweet and sour variety.

    

It’s much the same with stories. I like a mixture of sweet and sour. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016 movie; the novelization was written by Alexander Freed). An author who writes this kind of story has to strike the right balance between hope and hopelessness.

   

Usually I love the point in the story where things are at their worst, and you don’t think good can come out of it—but then it does, sometimes at a high cost. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion is a great reward for that kind of tension.

I also think of lemons because the sourness of life sucks sometimes. I can’t help putting it that baldly. (Yes, baldly.) Jobs are lost. People you love face health issues or are in emotional pain. These moments are the “shut the book, Dad” moments Samwise Gamgee talked about in Lord of the Rings—the moments when you’re not sure everything will turn out right. I’m in that kind of moment right now. Maybe one day, I’ll provide the full details. But I wanted to write about it in the moment—when a happy ending isn’t a guarantee—because often you hear stories of triumph after the fact, after the darkness has passed and the “sun shines all the clearer”—another quote given to Samwise, this time in The Two Towers:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.

These words gives me hope when life hands out lemons. May they enable you to keep pressing on in a sour/dark time of your own.

Now I’m thinking of some words Galadriel spoke in Fellowship of the Ring:

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Lemon image from freepik. Lemon meringue pie image from Pillsbury. Lemonhead image from Target. Quote from Two Towers is from the script by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Fran Walsh © 2002. Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee image from Cinema Blend. Words of Galadriel and others are by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Nostalgia

Happy Martin Luther King Day! He had a dream. What’s yours? As you think about that, I’ll move on.

Lately, characters from past television series have been making the news because of their return to the silver screen. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, below). Lizzie McGuire. The cast of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Not to mention MacGuyver, in a show rebooted awhile ago. I’m just waiting for an announcement about a Columbo reboot, though I can’t imagine the show without the late, great Peter Falk.

Nostalgia has been the catalyst for the return of many film franchises, shows, toys, and candy. This is probably why you can see so many old favorites from the past (toys, candy, TV shows on DVD) at the gift shops of restaurants like Cracker Barrel or specialty shops.

As I read Shari Swanson’s picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), which we discuss here, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching young Abe exploring the woods near his home. He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age do nowadays. So did I. When I was eight (a year older than Abe is in the story) and was given my first bike, I would tell Mom, “I’m off,” and would be gone for hours, riding around the neighborhood. Even with T-Rexes still roaming the earth back then (totally dating myself), I had the freedom to go off with just a friend who was my age.

    

Lest you think, What awful parents, this was the norm back then. Starting in kindergarten, my best friend and I walked to school without hovering parents. And I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago!

My parents had taught my brothers and me to always look both ways while crossing the street, as well as teaching us “Stranger Danger” stuff, like never talk to strangers or accept anything from them. Even with all of that freedom, I survived childhood. (Spoiler alert in case you wondered.)

Nowadays parents would probably be arrested for the amount of freedom my parents and Abe’s parents allowed kids. Sadly, we live in a world where many parents have to go the extra mile to keep their children safe. I hardly ever see kids out by themselves, with the exception of my neighbors’ kids. But I know their parents are just a shout away.

So I’m nostalgic for the times when I was free to roam without fear. If I had a dream, in the vein of Martin Luther King, Jr., my dream would be for a world in which children could do the same.

The winner of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is Lyn!

Lyn, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented on the interview post.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Patrick Stewart photo from The Daily Telegraph. Dream image from clipart-library.com. Martin Luther King, Jr. image from wallpapersin4k.org. Candy from 4imprint.com.

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.