Do Something Different

      

   

     

If you saw the 2018 Sony Pictures production, Searching, starring John Cho and directed by Aneesh Chaganty (who also co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian), you know it had an innovative approach to telling a story: using the screens of smartphones and computers. Let’s face it—a movie about a man searching for his missing daughter sounds pretty common right? (CoughcoughTakencoughcough) But with this film, the filmmakers subverted convention by telling the story a different way.

While this format might not be everyone’s

it is a unique way of telling a story.

Sometimes, you have to


to breathe new life into a genre.

I can’t help thinking of novels in verse or even epistolary novels (where a story is told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails, or even tweets). These formats are great ways to experience the beauty and variety of storytelling.

What is the most unusual format you’ve seen someone use to tell a story or to get a message across? What intrigued you about that format? How did it inspire you to try something different (if it did)? While you think about that, check this out. This is a wrapper from a Halls Breezers throat lozenge. I love that the company included a pep talk on each wrapper.

   

A great video on the production of Searching can be found here at the Lessons from the Screenplay YouTube channel. It has spoilers though.

Searching movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Envelope gif from figuringitouted.blogspot.com. Cup of tea from worldartsme.com. Halls Breezers image from gethalls.com/breezers. Other photos and screenshots by L. Marie.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other


Remember the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things”? If you aren’t, check this out.

The other week I headed to GameStop to pick up Pokémon HeartGold. While I waited in line, the guy at the counter talked to an eager Fortnite player. If you’re not sure what Fornite is, click here.

  

Now, when you think of the average Fortnite player, what demographic comes to mind? If you have no idea, click here to view a chart on the average Fortnite player. A guy in the line behind me fit that exact profile.

But the person who talked to the store clerk didn’t. At all. Picture a grandmotherly type with white hair, a soft smile, and an equally soft voice. Someone who might read a picture book to sick toddler. Someone you might find behind the checkout desk of the library. Now picture her mowing down husks (zombie-like creatures) or other players in the game, Hunger Games-style. It almost breaks your brain, doesn’t it?

One of these things is not like the other. . . .

But there’s something about that image that delights me. Oh not necessarily the zombie destruction, though I have destroyed many a zombie in the video game, Plants versus Zombies, but the fact that it goes against what’s expected. I think that woman would make a great character in a book. I wish I’d talked to her, and asked her questions to learn more about her.

A character who surprises a reader in a good way is a delight to discover. I especially love quirky characters who are just being themselves. They aren’t shouting from the rooftops, “I’m quirky! Look at meeeeeeee!” They’re just quietly going about their business, like the woman at GameStop.

Who was the last person (a book character or a person in real life) who surprised and delighted you?

While you consider that, here is the moment you also may have been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of The Way the Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen. (See interview here.)

   

The winner of The Way the Light Bends is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen of Behind the Story!

Nicki, please confirm below. Thank you to all who commented.

Black Panther figure by Funko. Shopkins Cutie Car Perfume Le Zoom by Moose Toys. Shuri action figure by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie. The Sesame Street song lyrics can be found here. Pokémon Heart Gold image from pokemon.wikia.com. Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Plants versus Zombies image from somewhere on Pinterest.

Check This Out: The Way the Light Bends

Before I continue with today’s post, let me first say that thoughts and prayers are with those who live in the areas affected by Hurricane Florence. Florence, you have outstayed your welcome. Go away!

Now, please join me in welcoming back to the blog the awesome Cordelia Jensen. She was here not long ago with Laurie Morrison to talk about their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing. (Click here for that interview.) Today, she’s here to talk about her young adult verse novel, The Way the Light Bends, which was published by Philomel Books earlier this year.

      

Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe. Okay, let’s strap on our gab bag and talk to Cordelia!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Cordelia: (1) I grew up in Manhattan where Skyscraping and The Way the Light Bends take place.
(2) Currently, I live in a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia where Every Shiny Thing, the MG book I co-authored with my friend Laurie Morrison, takes place.


(3) I’m the mom of boy-girl twins. They just started seventh grade! Eep!
(4) Along with an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, I have a MEd in School Counseling and a certificate in Family Therapy. Although I don’t actively use my counseling degree, I do think it comes in handy as an author!

El Space: You are having a busy year, with the release of Every Shiny Thing, and The Way the Light Bends. What, if anything, did you find most challenging in the writing of your verse novel?
Cordelia: The book was sold on proposal and I had never done that before. So, it went through a lot of different drafts and stages. At one point, which you know already since you read it at that stage, the book was actually a dual POV between the two sisters, Linc and Holly. Probably the hardest part of the process was writing Holly’s POV and then cutting it. But, in the end, it helped me get to know her so much better and I hope the book reads more authentically from me having spent that much time getting to know Holly’s journey.

El Space: Linc and Holly’s relationship as sisters is very poignant, as is Linc’s relationship with their mom. Please tell us how you came to write about these relationships and their conflicts.
Cordelia: The idea for the book first came to me from hearing a story on NPR about Seneca Village. When I heard the story, I immediately saw two sisters—one white, one black; one biological, one adopted—wandering Central Park. I knew they used to be close but were very disconnected and that part of the work of the story would be them finding each other again.

When my twins were little, I used to write articles for a publication about multiples and once I interviewed “virtual twins” for one of these articles. That idea of kids being just a few months a part but raised in the same home as twins, always stayed with me as a really fascinating family dynamic. Competition is often an issue in a twin dynamic and I guess I think that can often be encouraged or discouraged due to parental style. In this case, I wanted to write about a parent who favored one girl so much over another that she was doing serious damage to virtually everyone in the family. The mom is clearly the antagonist in The Way the Light Bends, although it feels to Linc sometimes that Holly is I think. The reasons behind the mom’s behavior though wasn’t clear to me from the beginning. I had to write myself into a place of understanding her and her behavior.

This story is about sisters but, in a way, it is almost as much about how parents can impact the self-esteem of their children.

El Space: Linc is a photographer. I loved the photography imagery you used in the titles of the poems and elsewhere in the book. Why did you choose that art form for Linc?
Cordelia: Thanks! It was fun to learn more about photography, as my mom is a professional photographer, but I didn’t know a lot about the technicalities of the art before writing The Way the Light Bends. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I chose it. When her character came with me, her camera came too!

El Space: When we talked about your other novel in verse, Skyscraping (click here for that interview), you mentioned that astronomy was a theme, and that playing with space in poetry is important. What was important to you theme-wise in this book? Why?
Cordelia: It was very important in this book that the verse reflected Linc’s imaginative and artistic personality and viewpoint. So, I played with white space even more than I normally do and saw some of the image construction as actually the way she sees the world—if that makes sense. Like, there is less metaphor, though there is some, and more of a fantastical way of actually seeing the world. Sort of like La La Land, where it is harder to distinguish what is happening and what is in the character’s imagination. I also played around more with fonts!

El Space: You teach creative writing. What to you are the ingredients of a great verse novel? Or are those easy to pinpoint? Why or why not?
Cordelia: I think any verse novel needs to use poetic elements to create an overall narrative to be considered one. I think a great verse novel has to play with white space, play with language, and use imagery, while having a strong handle on plot, setting, character development, etc.

El Space: Who are some authors who inspire you?
Cordelia: I guess my favorite authors write lyrical, coming-of-age stories that are both beautiful and sad. So, I love writers like An Na and Jandy Nelson. I also have really enjoyed Celeste Ng’s books, though she technically writes for adults.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Cordelia: I have started a middle grade book, a young adult book, and a picture book—all in verse! And Laurie and I are also working on collaborating on a project again.

Thank you, Cordelia, for being my guest.

Looking for Cordelia? You can find her at her website, Twitter, Instagram.

The Way the Light Bends can be found at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Big Blue Marble Bookstore. But one of you will be given a copy of this verse novel just for commenting. I will say it in rhyme!

One of you will win this book.
Leave a comment that’s worth a look.
Come on the twenty-fourth, and you will see
who the winner of the book will be.

Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Book covers from Goodreads. Camera image from cliparting.com. lifeasahuman.com. Seneca Village images from roadtrippers.com and Pinterest.com. La La Land movie poster from backstageol.com.

Check This Out: Paper Hearts

Hello! With me on the blog today is the awesome Meg Wiviott, a friend from VCFA here to talk about her young adult historical verse novel, Paper Hearts, which debuts today! Woot!

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book birthday

Meg is represented by Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman. Paper Hearts was published by Simon & Schuster. Here is the synopsis.

Paper Hearts

Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.

An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.

Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.

Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.

This novel is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst. Their heart is one of the few objects created in Auschwitz, and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Now, let’s talk with Meg!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Meg: (1) I was born in New York City. (2) I love cats. (3) When not writing or reading I spend my time knitting, weaving, or doing needlepoint. (4) I would like to be able to teleport, because I hate flying.

El Space: I’d love to teleport as well. Please tell us how you came to turn the true story of Fania and Zlatka into the novel Paper Hearts.
Meg: I first heard about the heart when I read online about a documentary, The Heart of Auschwitz (Ad Hoc Films 2010), in which the filmmakers try to find the women who signed it. I then visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where the heart is on permanent display, and met with one of the filmmakers. Then I knew this story needed to be told.

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I first wrote it as a non-fiction middle grade, but knew the story needed to be for older readers. I shoved the story in a drawer for a year and worked on other projects, but continued to keep the story in the back of my mind. When I returned to it, I decided to tell it in verse, which gave me the emotional distance I needed as a writer—Auschwitz is a horrid place to go to every day. I resisted turning it into fiction, but had to in order to make it a complete and full story. So, while everything that happens in the book did not necessarily happen to the girls, all of it still happened. All of it is real.

El Space: How much research did you do?
Meg: Tons! The heart—pun intended—of the story came from Fania and Zlatka’s Shoah Testimonies. I also relied on the film. To learn about the world in which the story took place, I read extensively about Auschwitz in general and the industries who contracted with the Third Reich to use the prisoners as slave laborers. I then began to narrow my interests to survivor stories from Auschwitz, the orchestra, the Sonderkommando, and the Union Kommando. There is an extensive bibliography in the book, but I don’t think even that lists all the books I read.

El Space: You’ve written a picture book, Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, which also has a tie to the Holocaust. What do you hope children, and now teens who read the story of Fania and Zlatka, will take away from your stories about this important, but devastating historical event?
Meg: Benno and the Night of Broken Glass tells the story of Kristallnacht, which marks the beginning of the Holocaust, through the eyes of a cat.

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My goal as a writer is to tell a story as historically accurate as possible. But I want to be as gentle as I am honest. I can only hope that a reader will take something from the story so that someday, when she encounters injustice/discrimination/hatred, she will stand up and say, “This is not right.”

El Space: How did you make the choice to write for children and young adults?
Meg: I’ve always written. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to write for children and young adults, it just seems to be what comes out of me. Someone wiser and pithier than I said that we write at the age of our inner selves. Obviously, my inner self is not an adult.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding historical fiction authors?
Meg: Be honest to the history and to your characters. Do not impose your twenty-first century ideas on someone who lived in a different time and place.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Meg: Any well written book is inspiring. When I was a kid, my favorite books were Where the Red Ferns Grow [Wilson Rawls] and My Side of the Mountain [Jean Craighead George].

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The books I’ve read recently that particularly inspire me are coincidentally all written by VCFA grads: Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, Heather Demetrios’s I’ll Meet You There, Catherine Linka’s A Girl Called Fearless, and Dana Walrath’s Like Water on Stone. These books are all beautifully written and tell important stories—the kind of stories I wanted to read as a child, the kind of stories I aspire to write now.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Meg: My current WIP is another YA historical novel set in 1944 in Los Alamos, tentatively titled Hiking with Oppenheimer.

Thanks, Meg, for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about Meg, check out her website and Facebook.

You can find Paper Hearts at
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Paper Hearts. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. When you comment, you might share something a friend did to cheer you up. Winner to be announced on September 8.

Author photo and Paper Hearts cover courtesy of Meg Wiviott. Other book covers from Goodreads and npr.org. The heart from telefilm.ca and mhmc.ca.

Check This Out: Skyscraping

If you were around the blog last year, you’ll remember the cover reveal for Skyscraping, the young adult verse novel by yet another friend and classmate: the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Well, Skyscraping, published by Philomel/Penguin, launched into the world on June 2. And Cordelia is here to talk about it.

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Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. Want to read a synopsis of Skyscraping? Sure you do. Click here.

El Space: Congratulations on the outstanding reviews you received for Skyscraping. Well deserved! I find it interesting that in Spanish mira means “look” and the book centers around something Mira [the narrator] saw. Was the name choice deliberate?
Cordelia: Well, in a way. I like that Mira sounds like mirror and that she is reflective as a person. And that there are a lot of reflection images in the book and, personally, that the story is sort of a distorted reflection of my own life. Her name used to be Lia, which was a part of my name CordeLIA. All the characters were named from parts of actual names of my family members. But somewhere in the revision, my editor suggested I change everyone’s names so I would have an easier time separating story from reality and, therefore, able to make more objective revisions.

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Cordelia’s June 6 book launch party at Mt. Airy Read & Eat in Philadelphia. Bandage on hand courtesy of a badminton accident. (Photos by I. W. Gregorio.)

I quickly chose Miranda as the name for the main character because my mom almost named me that. I also like that Miranda, like Cordelia, is a Shakespearean name. It is from The Tempest, which involves a charged father-daughter relationship as Cordelia has with her father in King Lear.

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My sister suggested Mira as a nickname, which I liked when I found out its meaning, which in English is “wonder.” This works thematically with the journey quality of the story. Furthermore, there’s a binary star named Mira, which is just perfect for the identity shifts in the book. For another name example, April used to be Jewel for my sister Julia, but I renamed her April because it means “open,” which is a defining part of that character’s personality.

mira

Mira

El Space: Also interesting is the fact that you mentioned The Odyssey in this book and Mira goes through a difficult odyssey of her own that I don’t want to spoil here. But I’d like to hear about the odyssey of turning what was once a memoir into a fiction story. How were you able to separate your journey from Mira’s?
MQpictureblackshirtCordelia: It was pretty hard to do at certain points. I first began fictionalizing my story under the advisement of the great Mary Quattlebaum [left]. Together, she and I constructed an arc based on some themes I knew I wanted to play around with: trying to stop time, safety/risk, running away/coming home. My talented friend Laurie Morrison actually was the one to suggest I frame the story in a year’s time, which was a huge grounding idea behind the book. It also is how I began to really fictionalize the book, because my own father was HIV positive since 1986 and was really very sick the years 1992-94, whereas Mira’s dad is sick for a relatively short period of time. Condensing the story is how I started to make it its own thing.

IMG_5427Display at Mt. Airy

Throughout VCFA and working with my excellent editor, Liza Kaplan, there were subplots that were cut or added; some characters are quite similar to the actual people, some very different. For example, originally the character of Adam was loosely based on my boyfriend at the time, but he became SO different as the drafts changed. I can’t say more without giving a lot away. BUT that is the beauty of fictionalizing something—you have that ability to have your story take unanticipated directions while maintaining an authentic emotional arc. At different points I had to take out all of the dialogue, cut two secondary characters. I started the whole book over and then in the final revision cut sixty pages from the beginning of the book. The odyssey of the revisions is hard to sum up! There were so many! Fortunately, Liza is so skilled as an editor and the book really is so much better from having made all those changes.

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Mt. Airy photo booth props from the 90s

El Space: Everything really works together! Mira chose the theme of space for the yearbook. And Mira gives herself space from her family and friends, which you show through the spacing used in these poems. How is space—on the page, emotional, or in the astronomical sense—important to you?
Cordelia: Playing with space is an essential component in poetry and in verse novels. Melanie Crowder just wrote a lovely blog post where she interviews many verse novelists on their use of white space. Here’s the link to that: http://cleareyesfullshelves.com/blog/melanie-crowder. I love how a poet can use white space in the way a sculpter uses it or a painter. This is something you really can’t do as much in prose and it adds a whole different layer of emotional depth.

The reason I chose astronomy as the theme for the book was because I actually took an astronomy class senior year. I wrote a few poems, including “Supernova” and “Something Stellar” and understood that it might make sense to write the whole book with this image system.

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Photo at left by Laura Sibson; photo at right by Jane Rosenberg

I think the feeling of being crowded and having no physical space and yet feeling so anonymous, like you have all this emotional distance from those around you, is also how I felt as a kid growing up in NYC. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and unknown. I think Mira—who, unlike me, really loves NYC at the beginning of this book—suddenly notices space, the space up and around her as her life crashes. In the book we are closely connected to her as she reexamines all the spaces around her.

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El Space: How did you come to choose the verse novel format as the vehicle to tell this story?
Cordelia: I showed Coe Booth, my VCFA advisor my first semester, five of my “family poems” as I called them at the time. She loved them and introduced me to the YA verse novel genre. She was the one who suggested I write a memoir in verse. I compiled about sixty of these poems before I made the decision to fictionalize the piece.

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El Space: I’m curious about the phrase let the butterflies into your heart from page 10. Is that your own invention or was that something someone said to you? What does that mean for you now?
Cordelia: It is actually adapted from a line from one of my favorite picture books, If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. I think as someone who is prone towards getting nervous, especially about new things or transitions, it is a saying I hold on to, so I liked the idea of the dad having that advice for his kids.

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El Space: Looking at two lines from your book—In just two days / we launch—I can’t help wondering what launched you into young adult books. You went to Vermont College of Fine Arts. But what made you choose writing for children and young adults?
Cordelia: I actually don’t think I would’ve gone to get my MFA in anything else. I already had a Master’s in Education in Counseling and I didn’t think I would get another Master’s. However, I had recently written a Middle Grade camp novel manuscript after being a camp counselor for eleven summers. Around that time I was standing in my kitchen with my author friend Dan Torday and he mentioned the MFA program at VCFA and I was like, “WHAT??? You can go to school to write for kids and teens?” My heart started racing and I applied that night. I love working with kids of any age and it is really the only population I am interested in writing for. Though of course that might change someday.

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Daniel Torday, author of The Last Flight of Poxl West and head of the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College (where Cordelia teaches), introduces Cordelia.

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More photo booth props

El Space: Which authors inspired you when you were a teen? How do you, in turn, inspire the young authors you meet in your workshops?
Cordelia: I loved e.e. cummings’s poems when I was a teen. He taught me how you can play with words and still write “serious poetry.” I also loved the beautiful, sad, and haunting books by Pat Conroy. Loved that Southern drama! I was always into the family saga like The Thorn Birds and I, Claudius. It didn’t matter the decade as long as it was essentially a soap opera. I liked escaping into other complicated worlds.

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In terms of being a creative writing teacher, I hope I inspire my students to experiment with language and character, to let go of self-consciousness and just write. But really what I’m most interested in—and maybe this comes from my counseling background—is building confidence. I love giving caring feedback to young writers, pointing out their strengths and areas to work on. I also LOVE making up writing games and exercises. I do this with students—both young and undergrads—a lot.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Cordelia: I have two other manuscripts that are done—one a verse novel and another that is more of a mystery. The one I am working on now is sort of a ghost story/historical fiction. For the first time, I am trying to go slower with my first draft—doing lots of free writing in a notebook on the side. I also love writing picture books. I have a bunch of those that I work on sometimes.

El Space: Thanks, Cordelia, for being such a great guest.
Cordelia: Thanks for having me and being such a great host, Linda!

Searching for Cordelia? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Skyscraping is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Big Blue Marble Bookstore

But I’m giving away some sweet swag that includes a signed copy of Skyscraping.

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Yeah, baby! Comment below to be entered in the drawing! You might share a memory from the 90s, since that is the era of Skyscraping. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Book covers from Goodreads. Skyscraping cover courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Mira photo from xtec.cat. Mt. Airy photos and 90s props by Jane Rosenberg unless otherwise attributed. New York skyline from the 1990s from designsatire.com.

No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

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This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

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First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Writing with Abandon

I’ll reveal the winner of Like Water on Stone by the amazing Dana Walrath in just a minute. But first . . .

greg_berlanti_headhotToday, I finished reading an article by Tim Stack in Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 5 issue). The subject: Greg Berlanti, the co-creator of The Flash and Arrow, hit shows for the CW. I could mention how an article like that is the perfect bathroom reading, but I wrote a post on that subject before. So I won’t go there now. (You get it? Go there? Okay, I hear you. Some puns shouldn’t exist.) Anyway, Greg is not only involved with the above mentioned shows, he has another hit show on NBC (The Mysteries of Laura) and is developing a show about Supergirl for CBS. If that’s not enough, he’ll be the head writer for the next Oscars broadcast. And that’s not all. The guy has a long list of projects for which he’s either a writer, co-creator, or executive producer. Just reading the article exhausted me. But after reading it, I realized that Berlanti exemplified what I’d discussed in my previous post—writing with abandon. Thanks, Greg!

The following quote struck me:

Berlanti has been a huge comic-book fan since he was young, and seeing him at work is like watching a kid play with his favorite superhero toys. . .except these action figures will be life-size when production starts. (44)

Love for what he’s doing seems to be the key to Berlanti’s quantity of projects. (That and opportunity.) Another plus in Berlanti’s favor is a testimonial from Chris Pratt, who was part of the cast of one of Berlanti’s past shows, Everwood: “He’s capable of showing real heart without being melodramatic.”

Passion. Real heart without melodrama. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to achieve that balance? It takes a delicate touch.

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Jordie hopes that someday a television show is developed about him. He has a cape ready just in case. He’s sure that his story has real heart, and not an ounce of melodrama.

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His first order of business: mopping the floor with his arch-nemesis: Hello Kitty (code name: HK). Don’t let the cupcake and the bow fool you. She’s wanted in fourteen states for being a supervillain. Coincidentally, she has seen her favorite movie, Megamind, fourteen times. Be afraid.

Megamind

Getting back to Greg Berlanti, whatever he’s doing seems to be working, judging by the many viewers his shows have earned. I’ve been meaning to watch The Flash and Arrow. Have you seen them? I’ll get around to them at some point. But for now, my time would be better spent doing what I’m passionate about: weaving works of a high fantasy nature and crocheting whimsical hats. As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make several hats like this in the coming weeks.

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Unlike HK above, this hat has no desire to take over the world. . . .  At least not that I know of. Be afraid.

And speaking of someone who writes with abandon, let’s get to the winner of Like Water on Stone by the multitalented Dana Walrath. (See interview here and here.)

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The winner is . . . (drumroll, please) . . .

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Jill Weatherholt, come on down! Please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all others who commented.

Stack, Tim. “The Man Behind the Masks.” Entertainment Weekly. 5 Dec. 2014: 42-46. Print.

Drumroll gif from cutenessoverflow.com. Greg Berlanti from hollywoodreporter.com.

Check This Out: Like Water on Stone (Part 2)

Hey, thanks for returning for part 2 of the interview with Dana Walrath. As I mentioned in part 1, Dana is here to talk about her novel-in-verse: Like Water on Stone, published by Delcorte Press.

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Now, on with the show . . .

El Space: How did you come up with Shahen, Sosi, and Mariam? Of these characters, who are you most like? The least like?
Dana: To honor my grandmother Oghidar, and her younger brother and sister, who I knew as Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice, I always wanted three siblings to make this journey together. But I never wanted to make this story literally theirs, so I started out with Shahen as the oldest looking out for his two younger sisters. As the mother of three sons, I am drawn to writing male characters. But Sosi’s voice was the one that came most easily. It took me time to discover Shahen’s inner journey, his frustrations at being small and not heard, but as I understood him, Shahen and Sosi grew into twins and equals. This explained their strong bond and gave more tension to their different stances toward their homes. An older Sosi also fell in love, adding tension to their flight.

As I was researching about eagles I was delighted to discover the shared experience between Ardziv and thirteen-year-old Shahen, that female birds of prey tend to be larger than males. Mariam got her name from a friend of my grandmother’s from the orphanage who went on to marry in NYC many years after the genocide. But the similarities stop there.

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For Mariam, I thought long about how someone so young would process these experiences. Her magical thinking supported all three of them. In turn, the love and care Shahen and Sosi show for her enabled her to survive in tact.

Who am I most like? What an interesting but hard question! There are pieces of me in each of them. Like Shahen, I get frustrated when I see things broken in the world and want them to change but have only limited power to do so. Like Sosi, I find comfort in the domestic tasks that connect me with my ancestors. Often when I am preparing Armenian food at home, I imagine a group of women chatting together as they roll up the grape leaves or chop vegetables finely. Like Mariam, using my imagination keeps me whole. But this is something all three young ones came to do. Shahen and Sosi both used stories to nourish one another when the food ran out, not to mentions the music, dance, and weaving that sustained them. Like all of them, I believe in the transformative power of art.

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El Space: What do you want readers to take away from reading this book?
Dana: I want readers to be touched by the strength and courage and the power of imagination that individuals marshal during crises. Like Water on Stone is not a story about passive victims; instead, it is one of agency and strength that can give readers hope and courage in their own lives. I want readers to know the richness of Armenian culture and to imagine the impact of such a loss on generations. I also want readers to see our shared humanity and not to fall into a trap of saying that all Turks and Kurds are bad because of what the Ottoman government perpetrated one hundred years ago. At the same time, I want readers to understand what happened during the Armenian genocide and to know that genocide does not end until denial ends.

El Space: Too right!
Dana: Without recognition and reparation, a signal is sent to people in the present that genocide will be tolerated. As a world we all need to understand the stages of genocide as outlined by Professor Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, in order to prevent and end it globally.

El Space: I think inspiring people like you can make a difference. Which reminds me: what book, if any, inspired you as a child or teen? Why?
André MauroisDana: As a child I was completely in love with and inspired by a book from my father’s childhood: Fatapoufs and Thinifers by André Maurois (photo at left). First published in France in 1930 with fantastical illustrations by Jean Bruller, it was translated into English in 1938. It tells the story of two brothers who find their way to an underground world where two societies—the Fatapoufs, round, friendly food enthusiasts, and the skinny, efficient, driven Thinifers—are in the midst of a terrible war. The brothers, separated according to their respective shape and size, strive over the rest of the story to come back together and to bring about peace. A new, blended world comes about that uses the strengths of each of these cultures. As a political allegory that drew on the relationship between France and Germany through World War I, it eerily foreshadowed the coming war. This book gave me a creative context in which to place the activism and assassinations that were happening during the formative years of my childhood. Above all, it gave me an absolute commitment to our common humanity that is distinct from what we look like, and from our beliefs and practices.

Aliceheimer_s-AA_cover-demo-faceEl Space: What are you working on now?
Dana: As always, I am working on several things at once! The first is part two of my graphic memoir, Aliceheimer’s, tentatively called Between Alice and the Eagle. It blends Alice’s continuing story with the stories that I learned from elders in Armenia during the year I spent there as a Fulbright Scholar. I am also working on a contemporary novel called The Garbage Man about a daughter coming to terms with her father’s hoarding disorder. I am busy incorporating drawings into it. A second novel, Life It Gives, follows the story of Armenian immigrants in New York City. The main character is the daughter of Sosi from Like Water on Stone. I’ve also got several picture book manuscripts in the works. This strategy of jumping around might seem frenetic to some. But for me, it lets me let things simmer with my subconscious when I am stuck and also lets me respond to other demands in my schedule. This fall I have been working most actively on The Garbage Man. With the launch of Like Water on Stone last week, it was so good to turn to picture books to keep my hand in the writing process. I am speaking about comics and dementia at the American Anthropological Association meetings at the beginning of December and am creating some new comics that will advance Between Alice and the Eagle.

Thank you, Dana, for being a great guest! With all of your projects, you make me feel lazy!

And, as usual, thank you to all who stopped by. Like Water on Stone can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s

But one of you will find a free copy winging your way. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced on December 3.
Looking for Dana in the meantime? You can find her at her website and Twitter.

Have a great Thanksgiving! This one is for Andy of City Jackdaw:

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Eagle from animalscamp.com. Armenian pattern from ms-seo.de. Comic from pinterest.com.

Check This Out: Like Water on Stone (Part 1)

Hello! Glad you made it here. Today and tomorrow I’ll be talking to the way fabulous Dana Walrath, another awesome author friend from VCFA. Dana is here to tell us about her young adult novel-in-verse: Like Water on Stone, published November 11 by Delacorte Press/Random House.

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Dana is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I’ll announce a giveaway at the end of the interview tomorrow. Intrigued? Stay tuned. Now, let’s get started.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Dana: Thanks so much for having me here! I started out as a visual artist. Though I was always a voracious reader I never imagined myself a writer until recently. The act of writing a dissertation in anthropology—my attempt at being practical—made me start to think of myself as a writer. I love growing older because these disparate threads have finally become integrated!

El Space: Like Water on Stone seems to be a very personal story for you. What made you decide to tell it now?
Dana: As the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, I’ve been sitting on this story for most of my life. I was haunted by my family’s story but confused when teachers in grade school would ask me about Armenians. The realization that my teachers, who were entrusted with educating me, did not know about a genocide in which 1.5 million people died, became my first introduction to the politics of writing history. My Armenian mother responded to this vacuum by marrying an American and raising us to aspire to be blond and to climb the American hierarchy. I responded, in turn by chasing my Armenian identity for much of my life.

I travelled to my grandparents’ homeland, in what is now Eastern Turkey, in 1984; to Soviet Armenia in 1977. I filled my college language requirement with Western Armenian; I made large oil paintings and intaglio prints inspired by the Armenian landscape; I gave my children Armenian first names. When I discovered writing, this story began to come out. Because I tend to work on many things at once, the “now” of when Like Water on Stone was written is quite long.

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El Space: How did you decide on the novel-in-verse approach?
Dana: Considering that I had spent most of my life poetry-phobic due to my own inability to “interpret” poetry adequately, writing in verse wasn’t so much a decision I made. Instead the story decided its own form, appearing in fragments with line breaks. I never put two and two together about poetry, the rhythms of language, and my love for picture books until I started to write. Along the way I fell in love with this fascinating hybrid form through books like Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust and Witness; Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade; and Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree and The Poet Slave of Cuba. This let me trust the voice of Like Water on Stone as the fragments grew in verse form.

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Looking back, I’ve come to realize that the subject matter dictated the form. The brutality of genocide, the heaps of emaciated bodies, walking dead, rape make us all turn away. Just as I could only let fragments in, I did not want readers to turn away. I wanted them to have the white space to feel and process this experience. I wanted readers to know that people can turn their pain into hope and can emerge ready to reach and touch others. On a personal level, I was also reaching back across cultural and temporal divides to connect with my ancestors. Free verse gave me a way to both transcend and embody that connection. Today I love both reading and writing poetry, though my other fiction, picture books excepted, is written in prose form.

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El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book? How long was the process from start to finish, including research?
Dana: I found the various characters’ voices and the verse form of this book long before I found a true nuanced story line. As a survival journey I already had that basic outline of a story, but had to figure out how to create the details of the flight and character’s inner journeys so that the three siblings survived not just alive but whole. From the earliest fragments to publication it took about a decade for me to write this story with two beautiful years getting an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts about halfway along the journey. I worked on this story along with a host of other projects while there, but did not have this story in submittable from until two years after graduation. During that time, the magical realism and the omniscient narrator, Ardziv the eagle, appeared. Once this happened, everything fell into place. I went from having a dozen or so distinct narrators to the four that remain. Ardziv and his magic kept me safe as I dug deeper into the story.

In terms of research, I would have to say that my entire life was part of researching this story. For example, when I travelled in Western Armenia—now Eastern Turkey—in 1984, I had no idea that I was doing research for a novel. I just wanted to walk the same earth that my grandparents had. I kept my identity hidden and was welcomed as part of a young American couple into people’s homes with the hospitality characteristic of the region. People fed us foods that I had known my entire life and said, “I bet you have never tasted anything like this before.” Anti-Armenian stories kept me cautious until I got to Palu, the place where my grandmother’s family had run a mill. We visited the crumbling defaced church set high on a hillside. In Turkish we asked people about whether there were any mills nearby, and were directed across the eastern branch of the Euphrates River and up into the woods. There, the lady of the house served us tea on the roof, mounds of apricots drying in the sun beside us. When I asked about the history of the mill, she told me that this mill had been her family for 60 years, but before that, it had belonged to Armenians. For a moment, as we held each other’s gaze, the official Turkish policy of genocide denial evaporated. I do not know whether this was my own family’s mill, but the mill became the setting for the book.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop here for today. But stop by tomorrow for more of this interview with Dana Walrath and to learn of the giveaway.

Can’t wait until tomorrow to catch more of Dana? You can watch her give this TED Talk now.

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Jordie thought that being in water was a way to celebrate the title of Dana’s book. Perhaps he believed he would sink like a stone. Sigh. Forgive him. He gets a little confused, but he has good intentions.

Book covers from Goodreads. Poetry image from clker.com.