It’s a Matter of Perspective

It’s Labor Day here in the States. On this day, we cease from our labor and go to the home of friends and enjoy fondue.

Oh wait. That’s just what I plan to do today. But for many of us, this is part of a much-needed three-day weekend. (Unless you work in a hospital, store, or restaurant and have to work on Labor Day.)

Before I head off for fondue, take a look at this photo. What do you think it is? You can see what it is if you scroll down to the end of this post. How close were you in your guess? Does the photo below change your perspective?

So many things in life are a matter of perspective. Ever reread something you wrote but put aside for years, thinking it was a lost cause then, but now discovering a treasure? Or perhaps you recently took another look at a DIY project you finished years ago. What did you think of it when you first finished the project? What do you think of it now?

Time can change your perspective. Think about all of the books, TV shows, or movies you loved or hated when you were a kid. Do you still love/hate them? Case in point: my parents loved documentaries. But when I was a kid, I thought documentaries were too serious and were super boring—unless they had something to do with predators like lions or sharks. Then I was interested. But now I love documentaries of all kinds.

Anyway, I recently reread some poems I wrote years ago, when I first began a daily poetry challenge. Now, I don’t consider myself a poet at all. Andy of City Jackdaw and his new poetry-centric blog, Coronets for Ghosts, is a published poet. Charles Yallowitz regularly features poetry on his blog. I just dabble at it, thanks to the assignment of a grad school advisor (also a published poet), who told me to get The Aspiring Poet’s Journal and do the exercises in it every day to inject more whimsy into my writing. I was a little resentful of the assignment at first. But I soon grew to enjoy it. I now look forward to my daily sessions.

When I first began writing poetry, I was convinced that a kindergartner just learning his or her ABCs could write better poetry than the ones I churned out. But last week, when I reread one of my earlier poems, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t as embarrassed by it as I’d assumed I would be. Time had softened my perspective. And no, I don’t plan to post it here. I don’t have that much nerve.

Off I go for some fondue. Before I go, let me ask you this: What perspective shift, if any, have you experienced recently?

Labor Day image from wallpapercave.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

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Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

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El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

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El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

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El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

Check This Out: The Language of Stars

Today on the blog, it is my privilege to welcome the wise and wonderful Louise Hawes, who is here to talk about her young adult novel, The Language of Stars, the latest of her many novels. I met Louise my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is on the faculty. Click here to read a synopsis of The Language of Stars.

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Louise is represented by Ginger Knowlton. The Language of Stars, published by Simon & Schuster, debuted in May of this year. At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can get this book. Now, let’s talk to Louise!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Louise: 1) I’m allergic to chocolate. I know, I know! Weep for me! 2) I’m part of a group that meets every week to share responses to our dreams. 3) Before I was an author, I was a sculptor, in wood and stone. 4) My three sisters and I give creativity Playshops all over the world.

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El Space: The premise for The Language of Stars is so intriguing. What inspired its inception?
Louise: The summer residency schedule at Vermont College of Fine Arts must have had some “air” in it in 2008. Although VCFA’s students and faculty are usually busy morning to night, I somehow found time to pick up a paper, sit down, and read it! What caught my eye was a story about a group of teens arrested for vandalizing Robert Frost’s historically preserved summer home in Ripton, Vermont [below]. Because they were all underage, and couldn’t serve jail time, the teenagers were “sentenced” to take a course in Frost’s poetry.

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I’m sure you can imagine how this article triggered my writer’s “What if?” machinery: what if the poet wasn’t Robert Frost, but a fictional celebrity poet from North Carolina—where I live—who’s done for the landscapes and people of the South, what Frost did for New England? What if this poet, unlike Frost, was alive when his house was vandalized? What if he decided to teach the course himself? And what if he met a young student who . . . well, you get the idea. I just couldn’t stop!

El Space: Your prose has such verve! I love your play script sections. Words and sounds seem very key in this book. Is this your first novel to include poetry? Please tell us how that came about.
Louise: I knew from the beginning that Stars would include both prose and poetry. After all, most of the characters in the novel are writing poetry instead of doing hard time! And two of the characters, Rufus Baylor, my Superstar Poet, and Sarah Wheeler, the 16-year old student whom he meets and mentors, hear the whole world talking to them. That’s where the snippets of dialogue, those play scripts, come in. Sarah, I learned after months of free writing with her, is a wannabe actress, and so this third format was included for her. The lines of dialogue in these scripts aren’t usually people, but things—plates spinning, furniture breathing, sand crabs busy under the beach. Everything has a voice!

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And yes, this is first novel of mine that’s featured poetry as an integral part of the book. Actually, though, the poetry in Stars was the least difficult part of bringing this story to life. While the research into Frost’s life and work, which entailed reading everything he ever wrote and everything written about him, was a long, hard process, the poems? They flowed, they filled me up. You see, I’ve always read and written poetry. In fact, I often write a poem for each prose chapter as I’m drafting a novel—not for publication, but to provide an emotional benchmark, to make sure I’ve got the feeling tone I want. So poetry wasn’t new for me, but making it public was. I’d never thought of submitting it, instead I’d kept it private, close to the bone. So even though I’m a bit old to be a “debut novelist,” I guess, in that respect, Stars is a first for me!

El Space: What aspects of your personality, if any, did you donate to Sarah? To Fry? Why?
Louise: Wow! I can tell you’re an author yourself, Linda! We writers know so well that a large part of what we do is building bridges between ourselves and our characters, finding the parts of us that feed them. So far as Sarah, the teenage narrator of Stars, is concerned, there are a lot of bridges: once I’d free written with her—I keep a notebook of free writes for every book I work on—I discovered that she, like me when I was young, wants to be an actress. I even had a brief and supremely mediocre acting career out of college. I learned, too, that, like me and so many other adolescents, she cares achingly about what other people think, so much so that she has trouble finding herself in the mix. As for Fry, her popular, seductive boyfriend? He reminds me of that part, in all of us, that takes good things for granted until it’s too late. It’s funny, because just a few days ago, I got a letter from a reader who wrote me that, although she never expected to feel sorry for Fry, by book’s end, she did. I did, too. . . .

El Space: A poet mentors Sarah in the novel. Who mentored you as an author?
Louise: I am so grateful to you, Linda, for asking this question. It gives me a chance to pay tribute to a teacher I took for granted, someone whose role in my life I failed to recognize at the time. His name is Calvin Atwood, and he was my high school English teacher. He gave me my first book of poetry; I still have it, and it’s inscribed: “For Louise, who will find and give treasure . . . everywhere, always.” That’s a mantra I say every day now. What a blessing it is when someone believes in you that much!

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El Space: So true! What writing advice would you like to share about writing for teens or about poetry?
Louise: Three other VCFA faculty members and myself put together a panel on poetry just a few semesters ago. We all wore berets and sunglasses and flounced to our seats as Dave Brubeck music played in the background. Then, of course, we took off the hats and sunglasses and got real. Our point? You don’t have to suffer or live in a garret or exist on some esoteric, unreachable level of sensitivity, to love, read, and write poetry. Its rhythms and music are as essential as a heartbeat, and often just as necessary for survival. So have fun and get down with poetry, don’t put it on a pedestal. Love it, don’t leave it. Feel it, don’t analyze it. Your life will be richer, wider, deeper for it.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Louise: I’m working on two novels right now—an historical fiction called The Gospel of Salomé—yes, she of the seven veils!—and a book for middle graders called Big Rig, about a father-daughter trucking team. I love having two projects going at the same time; that way you never get bored or over-stay your welcome with one story’s characters!

Thank you, so much, Louise, for being my guest!

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

The Language of Stars can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

But one of you will be given a copy of this book just for commenting below. Winner to be announced on August 15.

Chocolate allergy image from stickyj.com. Teacher image from globalcatalystgroup.com. Robert Frost from writingasaprofession.wordpress.com. Poetry image from annawrites.com. Sand crab from milkweedpods.blogspot.

How to Really Win the Holidays

I’m very late getting this post  out, having been offline for three days. Obviously, I’ve returned! 🙂 But I said I would announce the winners of the book giveaways today. Better late than never, eh?

If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you’ve probably seen some of Best Buy’s recent “win the holidays” campaign. You can win by purchasing gifts of technology at—where else—Best Buy. The clear winner of course would be Best Buy, who would significantly add to its coffers with your money.

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But I’m sure you know how to really win the holidays. With the angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2; consult A Charlie Brown Christmas, which comes on TV every year), you can extend goodwill toward people. How?

    • Instead of texting, call or visit a friend or family member—especially someone who lives alone or suffered a recent loss. Maybe you don’t know what to say. But your presence is more valuable than words.
    • Buy someone homeless a hot meal. You’ve probably seen this viral photo, which involves a woman doing just that. Think of the impact you can have. A hot meal might seem like a drop in a bucket compared to an ocean of need. But it’s an act of love that will never be forgotten.
    • Make a card or a gift for someone. Remember how excited you were when you were a kid and could hand off the paper chain or wreath you made? Recapture the fun and wonder by making a gift for someone.

Happy Foot

This is a Happy Foot coaster I’m making as a gift (pattern by A.D. Whited of Enchanted Hook).

  • Instead of stressing about where you can find that bobble-head figure from the Star Wars franchise (Toys R Us or Target by the way—you’re welcome), take a hot chocolate break. I know. Easy for me to say. I don’t have an 11-year-old who is dying to get a storm trooper bobble head. But I know some would love to chat about the movies or shows over a nice cup of hot chocolate.
  • Give an animal friend a treat. Even if you lack a pet, you can still give to the animals around you. The orange tabby who lives in the area likes to stop by for tuna. (Though he’s very finicky about brands. He won’t eat the dirt cheap kind.) If you have a garden that rabbits and deer enjoyed over the summer, relax. You’ve already given.

Another way to win is to get free stuff. So let’s get to the book giveaways: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

ALLWELEFTBEHIND Ingrid Sundberg Author Photo

and Heading North by Andy Murray.

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The winner of All We Left Behind is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

Check This Out: Heading North

Here on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. You probably know him from his blog, City Jackdaw. We started blogging in the same year, each reading the other’s fledgling efforts. So I’m thrilled that we’re here today to not only say happy birthday to him but also to celebrate the launch of his poetry collection, Heading North, which was published recently by Nordland Publishing. Woot!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I haven’t moved very far from my roots—I live next door to my childhood home [in Manchester, England].

manchester_map2. I have a thing about sharks, courtesy of watching Jaws as a kid.
3. My dreams begin while I am still awake.
4. I almost died from loss of blood after an accident with a vinegar bottle when I was eighteen months old. Imagine a world without City Jackdaw!

El Space: I can’t! 🙂 Please tell us how this poetry collection came about. How did you come up with the theme? What was the time frame for putting the collection together?
Andy: I saw a call by Nordland Publishing, a great new Norway-based publisher, for submissions of fiction and poetry inspired by Scandinavian folklore for an anthology that they were putting together. My story, about a Myling, was accepted and came out this year in The Northlore Series Volume One: Folklore. I was particularly pleased as this was my first published fiction. I also have a poem in it.

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The editor contacted me, enquiring about other work, and we got talking about the possibility of doing a poetry chapbook. Nordland were planning to publish books by different poets in a series under the umbrella of “Songs of the North.” The first book, recently released, is by a great poet named Katie Metcalfe, and I have been given the daunting task of following her.

I came up with the idea of a collection of poetry arranged in a deliberate order, reflecting a journey of both geography and time: from the childhood and youth of summer in the south, to the mortality-facing winter of the north. Hence the title Heading North. I already had some poems that fit this theme, and I wrote some new ones to compliment them. The collection took shape over a period of about six months. The oldest work included in the collection are two poems that were written around twenty years ago, and the newest being a last-minute addition from when I recently went to Sweden, when, it being the furthest north that I have ever been, I thought it too good an opportunity not to write something for the book.

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El Space: What’s the genesis of a poem like for you? Do you get an idea and start jotting down words? How much revision is involved?
Andy: Most of the time I “get” a few words or sentences when I am out and about, normally thinking of other things. My antennae must be up. I try to make a note of them, otherwise they become lost. When I was a postman, I used to scribble lines on “while you were out” cards. No wonder the post was always late! Then, when I have a little quiet time, I rewrite those words and take it from there. Normally I write them pretty fast, maybe an hour at the maximum, once I have that initial inspiration. There might be the odd word or line that doesn’t feel right and I will return to it later. I find that, for me, labouring over them doesn’t work. It becomes heavy, while inspiration is light. If I’m struggling, I leave it for another day.

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Sometimes I mess around with words, a bit like how musicians jam on their instruments to come up with a song. While sitting in front of the TV, or listening to music, I write down any old thing that immediately comes into my head, adding lines together, substituting one word for another, until occasionally, something starts to take shape. There are times when the poem takes on a life of its own and runs, becoming by the end something totally different to what it was at the beginning, subject wise.

El Space: What first brought you to poetry? What causes you to stick with poetry?
Andy: In my schooldays I used to write humorous poetry, daft things really. I still have some off these lying around. Being a big Beatles fan, I discovered that John Lennon used to write similar, nonsensical things that were compared to the English poet Edward Lear. I have never read Lear, but knowing that one of my musical idols wrote things in a similar vein to me kind of validated it for me. But I never had any pretensions about it—it was just something that I did for a laugh. In my early twenties I discovered The Doors. Jim Morrison is one of the few rock stars to be taken seriously as a poet, and through him I discovered the likes of Blake and Rimbaud. Everybody points to somebody else! Poetry, fiction, music—they are all part of a family tree.

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I have stuck with poetry because it is how I think, and so it is how I express myself. And of course I love words, and the endlessly possible combination of words.

El Space: What do you consider to be the qualities of a first-rate poem?
Andy: I think this is different for everybody. One man’s meat is another man’s poison: I think that this is especially true of poetry. Music too. Different styles and subjects speak to different people. Sometimes a poem can touch you but you cannot say exactly why. In a similar way, I am not one for explaining the meaning of my own poems. I like people to take from reading a poem what they will, as long as the poem itself is not too obscure.

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El Space: On your blog, you also post a lot of old photographs. How have you united both passions—old photographs and poetry?
Andy: You remember that great, old photograph that has featured on my blog a couple of times: “Mary and her grandfather, Jasper, around 1900”?

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El Space: I do.
Andy: Well in a poem called “Old Town,” there is a woman reading a book by Truman Capote (I had The Grass Harp in mind), and she is using that old photograph as a bookmark. I love old photographs such as this one, although most of the time we never know the names of the people that feature in them, and never know what happened to them after the photo was taken. Did they go on to have good lives? Tragic lives? Were they part of a great love story, or now lie miles away in foreign soil? Are their descendents walking around among us now, unaware of these people and their own beginnings? This absence of resolution both haunts and gets the imagination going.

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El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Andy: All of them! I am never without a book, or a backlog to work my way through. My wife bought me a Kindle in a last-ditch attempt to consolidate what space is left in our home. My favourite book, like so many other people, has always been To Kill A Mockingbird, since I discovered it in my English Literature class, and these days I am working through many titles from the Penguin Modern Classics range. But I read anything, all genres. Recommend me a book, Linda—I will read it!

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El Space: Let me think about that. 🙂 In the meantime, what advice do you have for people who would like to start writing poetry?
Andy: Do it! Don’t worry about style and subject and comparing yourself to others. Just keep writing and find your own voice. It develops over time. Some of my very early stuff from when I was younger makes me cringe now. You will never see it—I’m burning the evidence.

El Space: Ha ha! What are you working on now?
Andy: Currently I am writing the second draft of a story for the next anthology in the Northlore series. It involves the Scandinavian God Loki being in the trenches in First World War Belgium. After that I am gearing up to attempt a novel-length book of short stories containing recurring characters, based in a fictionalised version of the town that I have grown up in. But that is a big step up for me, in terms of length. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first! And, of course, some poetry.

El Space: Thanks, Andy, for being my guest.
Andy: As a long time reader of your author interviews, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity.

El Space: My pleasure!

Heading North is available from Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.com.

I’m giving away a copy of Heading North to a commenter. The winner will be revealed on December 14.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of Andy Murray. Other covers from Goodreads. Manchester map from manchester.university-guides.com. Winter image from natural-hd-wallpapers.blogspot.com. Jim Morrison from pedrocolombo.blogspot.com. John Lennon from veteranstoday.com. Birthday image from sodahead.com. Poetry images from fanpop and msfindlater.blogspot.com. North compass image from en.wikipedia.org.

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?

     Hanukkah  christmas_stocking
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.

Mover and Shaker: Is That You?

    MTLLyarGc   1024px-Salt_shaker_on_white_background

Ever feel certain you know the definition of an idiom, but when you start to describe it on paper, you discover that you’re not really sure of its definition? That’s how I was with mover and shaker, a phrase coined by poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his poem, “Ode.” The phrase might seem familiar if you’ve seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Here is the first stanza ala Wikipedia:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Before I get to the definition, let me ask you this: who would you consider to be a mover and shaker (past or present)? Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft? Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook? Oprah Winfrey? Margaret Thatcher? Abraham Lincoln? Any famous actor, producer, or writer?

Often we take our cues from those on whom society shines a spotlight. So, before I looked up the definition of mover and shaker, I had a preconceived idea that certain qualities were prerequisites. A mover and a shaker, I assumed, had to be

• Confident
• Strong
• A squeaky wheel
• An extrovert
• A winner or someone determine to win at all costs
• Pushy
• Competitive
• Driven
• Highly motivated
• Exceptional
• A corporate CEO
• A celebrity
• A leader on a national level

A mover and shaker, according to Merriam-Webster.com, is

A person who is active or influential in some field of endeavor

Note that the definition only includes two adjectives: active and influential.

You might keep that thought in mind as I briefly move on. I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day about my nephew, who is in the midst of a national scholarship competition, having already won our state competition. My first thought was, how was he planning to crush the competition? I know. I sound like a stage mom, ready to scream at a kid to go out there and dominate! Intimidate! And my sister-in-law mentioned that she tried to instill within him the need to have the eye of the tiger. “But,” she said, “he’s not very competitive. He just wants to get through his presentation.” In other words, he’s fine whether he wins or loses.

So after that exchange, I wondered whether or not a quiet person could be considered a mover and shaker. As I pondered this, I thought of Rosa Parks, who didn’t say a whole lot, but whose decision to remain seated on a bus influenced many people.

I also thought about my parents, who always told me I could do anything I set my mind to do. They worked hard to make sure I received a good education and didn’t date the wrong people. 🙂 Neither is a corporate CEO or a leader on a national level. But they’ve done their best to guide me. So in my book that would qualify them as active and influential, even though they’re not celebrities.

Another person I thought about was my nephew, who sometimes slips songs on my computer that he wants me to enjoy. That’s influential. He’s also active about telling me corny jokes.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. I’m totally clueless about the notion of being a mover and shaker. All of the examples I’ve given don’t seem powerful or huge. But I would say, “That depends on your definition of powerful.” Is a sunset or a sunrise powerful? Neither adds to your bank account. And both occur whether you notice them or not. But maybe when you notice, you’re inspired to write a sonnet or forgive someone or simply go on living. If that’s not powerful, I don’t know what is. It’s the same with the people in our lives.

sunrise

Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift in regard to mover and shaker. Think about the people who have been quietly influential in your life, who influenced you to follow the career path you’re now on. Perhaps you’re that person, one who seeks the good in others or who works quietly behind the scenes to help others succeed. Or, perhaps you help persuade others to consider the impact their actions have on the environment. Maybe you’re an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Your actions have weight and meaning. Even if you don’t have a talk show or haven’t been asked to guest host for someone else’s talk show, you are a mover and shaker. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Salt shaker and sunrise from Wikipedia. Moving van from clipartbest.com