Guest Post: Seasons of Story

Today, I welcome to the blog a good friend who has been here a number of times—the great Lyn Miller-Lachmann. You have the floor now, Lyn!

Spring is my favorite season. I appreciate the buds and blossoms, the longer days, the fresh smell of grass after a rain shower. Yet I don’t feel the urgency to get outside with each warm day, the way I do in the fall. I know there will be many more warm, sunny days. I can afford to waste a few of them.

Writing fiction, though, I have to break the habit of wasting days. I don’t mean procrastinating in my daily word count. As a fan of spring and its endless possibilities, I tend to let my characters dilly-dally, smelling the roses, spending an afternoon on a winery tour in southern Moravia while the bad guys hunt them down.

A tight timeline is a writer’s friend. While many successful novels take place over the course of a calendar year, or in books for kids and teens, a school year (or four), tension rises when events occur within a short period of time. In some cases, there’s a ticking clock—something bad that will happen within a week if the protagonist doesn’t stop it. Long timelines tend to defuse tension, though they’re better suited to quieter novels that prioritize the emotional growth of the protagonist over a triumph over an evil adversary. As any critic of insta-love will tell you, genuine relationships and emotional transformation need time to develop.

I’ve found that my most successful novels take place over the course of one season. Of the middle grade and YA manuscripts I’ve completed—three published, two unpublished, and two due to be published in 2022—two take place in spring, two in fall, one in the northern hemisphere summer but the southern hemisphere winter, one in a six-month period between February and August cutting across three seasons, and one over the course of an entire year. The weakest manuscript, now shelved, takes place over the entire year, and much of it feels like vignettes rather than a story that builds tension to a climax. The other unpublished story awaiting revisions is a YA historical romance that takes place over a few weeks, and I’m coming to realize that I need a longer timeframe for the romance, one that balances the ups and downs of their relationship while taking into account the outside threats that the new couple faces. I will need the entire season, not just a month within it.

Given that I tend to keep the timeframe within a single season, how do I choose the season for each story? In general, I let the school calendar define my window, as school is such an important part of life for children and teenagers. My forthcoming middle grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’m writing with Zetta Elliott [below], takes place in fall because it’s the start of the school year and my protagonist, JJ, is a newcomer to his neighborhood and school. Faced with the foreclosure of their home on Long Island and JJ’s inability to secure a scholarship at his Catholic school due to poor grades and behavioral issues, his parents move to his grandmother’s basement apartment in Brooklyn just before the school year starts. The novel explores JJ’s adjustment to attending a public school for the first time, one in which there are few white kids like him.

In contrast, my 2015 YA historical novel, Surviving Santiago, is a summer vacation story. While her newly remarried mother goes on honeymoon, Tina journeys to visit her father in Santiago, Chile, where it’s the middle of winter—though a much milder winter than it would be in her Wisconsin home. In Chile she counts down the days until she returns to her friends and her daily routines. Her father’s home is a disorienting and dangerous place on the cusp of transition from dictatorship to democracy, a time of settling scores with people who upheld a violent regime and people like her father who helped bring it down. The countdown in this “upside-down” situation means returning to safety, at least until Tina meets a mysterious boy her ago with so much in common, and then she doesn’t want to leave at all. In Surviving Santiago, the season of the year works on multiple levels, including as a metaphor for the situation in which Tina finds herself.

Other factors can determine a choice of seasons. What sports are in season at the time? That had a lot to do with my choice for Rogue, set in a northeastern US spring with opportunities for mountain biking through muddy trails and swollen creeks. With historical fiction, reality often determines when the story begins. The inciting incident for my forthcoming YA novel, Torch, involves a teenage political activist motivated by actual events that occurred one and two months earlier, in January and February of that year; in March, he would be the third to carry out the same act.

Choosing the season for your setting, and using it as a ticking clock or metaphor can help you structure your story. Your details specific to that season root your story in a time and place and help your setting become a character in itself. If you don’t like that season (and I’m not a fan of either summer or winter), you can give your book a dystopian feel, as I did with Surviving Santiago. Or you can imbue it with the kind of possibility that you feel when the calendar, and the weather, turns to your favorite time of the year.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann writes fiction and nonfiction for teens and translates children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English. She debuted with the award-winning historical novel, Gringolandia, followed by its companion Surviving Santiago, and  has two more historical novels forthcoming in 2022: Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliott) and Torch. She also wrote the pioneering #ownvoices middle grade novel, Rogue, based on her experience of growing up autistic but not yet diagnosed.

L. Marie here. I just learned of another book project that Lyn is working on—a nonfiction book. Check it out here: https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/i-get-to-write-another-book/

Author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Photo of Lyn by Joan Heffler. Daffodil photo by L. Marie.

This Is Fall

These days, when I think of fall, I think of falling into bed onto my mass of pillows, because of long workdays. And because of said workdays, I think of these:

  

😄 😁 The chocolate came from a friend who sent a care package of goodies. The apple cider donuts are a fall favorite.

But on a day like today, with the weather so lovely, I headed out to snap tree photos (though some were taken on a different day when the weather was equally gorgeous).

 

And I couldn’t help noticing that the squirrels, the usual suspects around here, have partaken of another fall fave. Thanks, guys. ’Preciate it. 😐 😑So glad you don’t have access to my apple cider donuts.

Fall is my favorite season, because of the beautiful colors of the leaves and the cooler weather. Sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit—that’s ideal to me. But I also enjoy the snap of a forty-five degree day.

Today, however, the temperature shot up to 72 degrees. Woooooo—summer is back! (You might be thinking I’ve lost it, if you’re someone who thinks the perfect summer day means an 80-degree day.) Several people were out in T-shirts, enjoying the breeze.

What’s your favorite season? What do you like or love about fall? While you think of that, as promised, I will announce the winner of the preorder of Saint Ivy by the fabulous Laurie Morrison.

 

And that winner is Marian Beaman! Marian, please comment below to confirm.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Author Photo Credit: Laura Billingham. Other photos by L. Marie.

Let It Snow???

“Oh the weather outside is frightful,” as the song goes. I’m staring out at snow falling in a rather sheepish way. No pun intended ’cause snow and sheep are both white. I mean the snow is kind of light and noncommittal. Like, “Eh, I’m falling, ’cause it be like that. But I may not stay.” The determined, take no prisoners snow has yet to arrive.

 

Though I’m irritated by the snow (I want autumn! Go away, winter), Henry, however, is in his element. He wishes every day could be a snow day. He might get his wish, since we’ve had two days of this.

  

This is a short and sweet post, because I want to get to the main reason why I posted (besides complaining about the autumn snowfall). Before I get to that, let me throw out that I’ve been nominated for a blogger recognition award. There are a bunch of conditions for this award one of which involves acknowledging that I’ve been nominated (done!) and thanking the one who nominated me—FictionFan, which she announced at this post. Thank you, FictionFan!

Another is to tell you how this blog got started. Since this is not the anniversary of my blog, I will give you the simple answer—my younger brother challenged me to start a blog back in 2013. Within a month of that challenge, another guy basically said to me, “If you call yourself a writer, you’ll start a blog.” I took the plunge in February of that year. The results, as you can see. . . .

There are other conditions for this award, which I am skipping over, ’cause it be like that. And now, on to the main point of this post. What more fitting day than a snowy one to announce the winner of the ice cream giveaway, which was announced here. So without further ado, Nancy Hatch, Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Caramel Almond Brittle Ice Cream has been ordered and is on its way to you.

Thank you to all who commented! That’s all for now from the snowy Midwest!

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream image from their website. Other photos by L. Marie.

I Scream for Ice Cream

When I was a kid, one of the dearest sounds in the world was the song the ice cream truck played. Often, the tune played was “The Entertainer,” written by Scott Joplin. I wondered why, so I turned to your friend and mine—Google. According to this AVClub.com post by Joe Blevins, “Most professional ice cream distribution vehicles come complete with a music box from Nichols Electronics.” This music box has “public domain favorites like ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’ and Scott Joplin’s deathless ‘The Entertainer.’”

Ooookay. Though we often had ice cream in the freezer, as my mother would remind my brothers and me, we still wanted to buy whatever the truck sold. We knew the right moment to bug Mom for money—when she was on the phone. Many times she would give it to us just to get us to leave her alone.

Why am I bringing up ice cream? Because I am resurrecting the ice cream giveaway. If you’re new to the blog you’re probably wondering what on earth I mean. (It’s been awhile since I hosted this giveaway, so even if you’ve followed this blog awhile, you might be confused. Click here for a past giveaway.) I’m giving away one pint of ice cream (or yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto, if you prefer), which will be sent by Icecreamsource.com. Again, you might be wondering why. My answer is one that many parents have given over the years: “Because.”

Why now? I love the notion of giving away ice cream outside of the usual ice cream season—summer. I’m just weird that way.

Click here to see the varieties offered. In the comments below, please name the pint of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto you’d like to receive. This company only delivers to the U.S., so my apologies to any readers outside of the States. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

After a hard day, Tia Tigerlily needs a little pick-me-up. And yes, she can quit eating ice cream anytime she wants. She just doesn’t want to.

Ice cream truck from clipartion.com. Ice cream images from Serious Eats and Tasting Table. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.

Color My World

When you think of a product that epitomizes your childhood, what do you think of? To me, nothing says childhood like Crayola Crayons. I loved getting new crayons at the beginning of the school year. Crayons and new notebook paper opened up new imaginative possibilities.

I couldn’t find the small box of crayons I have, so this box of chalk will have to do as a stand-in for childhood wonder.

Thanks to the recent rainstorms, the ground is too wet right now to effectively draw on the sidewalk, but here is a photo I’ve used on the blog before. Some of the kids in my apartment building did the handiwork. I love how the color brightens a bland sidewalk. It was a day brightener for me as well.

Did you know that non-toxic crayons have existed since 1903? I didn’t. I found out when I looked up the history of Crayola and watched a video on it. Click here for that video.

The 1903 crayons

In 1958, the box of 64 crayons was born.

I never lost my love of crayons, mainly because I love an array of colors. Whether I crochet or knit, I love to use colorful yarn. If a pattern calls for neutral colors, I usually switch the colors to those I prefer. I actually feel better when I’m working with colors and when I’m surrounded by colorful things.

Turns out I’m not the only one. According to this article, brighter wardrobe colors make you feel better. Room colors also affect your mood, according to this article and this one. But according to this post at Smithsonian.com, color preferences are not always universal. Past associations with a color and also cultural influences can affect how a color is perceived.

Do you have a favorite color? How do these colors make you feel?

 

 

 

 

Undoubtedly, you’ve seen color used in a movie or in a book to heighten a certain mood. But sometimes color is used against type for an unsettling effect (like a bright, sun-washed blue sky in a horror film).

Speaking of color in nature, with autumn underway, I look forward to the changing colors of the leaves. Until that happens, I can enjoy colorful clouds in the sky at sunrise or sunset. These photos were taken at sunrise. The clouds in the photo at the right look like a mythical firebird with bright plumage.

 

How has something colorful brightened your life this week?

The Squeezamal [creature at the right] has found a colorful new friend, Lazy Buns, who doesn’t get a move on without a cup of coffee.

Crayola stamp from somewhere on Pinterest. 1958 Crayons from PopScreen. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Pop Hair Pets are a product of MGA Entertainment.

Quiz Time!


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

1. Favorite season of the year


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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Gets You Through It?

See, it was like this: I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday. Accepting that I have reached this age took time to process (and no I will not share what age). Not only that, the master cylinder on my car had just decided to quit working and was demanding a pension. And I had deadlines on the same day. And rejections.

Still, I felt celebrated thanks to the well wishes of family, friends, and acquaintances, and the many meals out that I have enjoyed with family and friends, one of whom treated me to this . . .

. . . . which graciously premiered on my birthday. OF COURSE I WON’T SPOIL THE MOVIE! What do you take me for? Stop shaking your finger at me, please.

So anyway, I came out of my pre-birthday funk, though the days after my birthday looked like this . . .

   

(Yes. You are seeing correctly. That is snow. I think of the past weekend as Revenge of the Sith or The Empire Strikes Back. Winter was determined to get the last word in when I told it to leave.)

Recently, I felt a nudge at my elbow. When I turned, I saw this:

Me: Um, what’s this?
Henry: I’m giving you Boo Bear.
Me (noting Henry’s trembling lips and teary eyes): I can’t take your bear.
Henry (bravely): I want you to have him. He helps me when I’m sad.

I thanked Henry for the lovely gesture and decided to stop whining about birthdays and snow and master cylinders that conk out when I’m in the middle of driving.

Henry reminded me of the coping methods people use in challenging times. Henry has Boo Bear. Malik meditates on his own awesomeness.

Even Kitty chimed in with the fact that therapy has helped. In fact, she has enjoyed her sessions with her therapists, especially since she only has to pay them in Skittles.

What gets you through challenging times? Comment below to be entered into my birthday giveaway. What am I giving away? Certainly not Boo Bear. A $25 Amazon gift card. Nothing cheers me up like giving stuff away. I love to give presents similar to what I’ve received. So, it was either give a gift card or these:

  

Winner to be announced when I post next. (Sometime next week. Hopefully Monday or Tuesday.)

Avengers: Endgame movie poster from impawards.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Armed and Dangerous

See this?

This is a sword. It might not look like it, but it is. I use it to slay the elements.

You hear that, Winter??? You’ve thrown what you got at me. Minus 11-degree temperatures with -20 windchill. Snow falling every day. Freezing rain on top of that some days. Days when I have to scrape snow and ice off the car sometimes two or three times a day. But you will not get me down! No, no, no! You. Will. Not. Break. Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

This is my fighter pack.

Yes, that is a cup from Starbucks. It is a hot mocha. Got my sword and my gloves. And my lemon loaf cake. And I’ve got books to keep me warm. (And soft blankets.)

   

See these? My babies! I call the one on the left Darth Vader. And the one on the right has a space helmet vibe. How apt that these are space heaters.

   

Don’t let this sunny day fool you. It got to ten above (-12 Celsius) that day and sixteen on Sunday. The forecast calls for more below zero weather with snow.

   

Ha ha, Winter! You think you’ll break me. Think again!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It hammers at you, crusts you over in disillusionment with its icy winds.

So I bought this the other day.

It may not look like much. But the title on the package says something to me. Not to the surface me, but to the bone-deep me that needs a good word every now and then. It reminds me to keep dreaming even through the crusty moments. Dream big dreams, girl. Not just dreams of warm, sunny days to avoid giving in to the winter blahs but dreams that say cold, dark days like this won’t last forever. That there’s something beyond those midnight blue-hued days where you’re kicking icicles off your car. Off your heart.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes the iceberg of life is way too much for your little boat. And my little pep talk, with its mixed metaphors, is only a tiny splotch of Sunshine Yellow paint on your Great Wall of Despair. I don’t want to make light of anyone else’s pain. This pep talk is really to remind me to keep going, even when I don’t want to.

So, Winter, you won’t have the last laugh! Not on my watch.

Oh yes, Winter. I’m armed and dangerous. Don’t mess with me.

Even Kitty has a found a friend during the cold days. Though I don’t think this poor cat knows what she’s gotten herself into.

Photos by L. Marie.

Twiggy

In the 1960s, a model from London named Lesley Lawson became a fashion icon. Oh, perhaps you don’t recognize the name. Maybe the name Twiggy will jar your memory. However, if the 1960s was a decade your parents or grandparents remember (rather than you), you probably still have no clue who this is. Back then Twiggy was known for her waiflike look. Even today, some vie for the Twiggy look.

Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images

During my Sunday drive, I couldn’t help thinking of Twiggy with every deciduous tree I passed. Bare, vulnerable branches reached toward the gray sky, which brightened to blue in the afternoon.

Winter strips all of the pomp out of a tree. The circumstance is survival as a tree sheds its leaves and tucks into itself to wait for spring. But in their winter starkness, you can readily see the lovely “bones” of a tree.

In grad school, I had an advisor who did to my sentences what winter does to a tree. I had a habit of trying to get all fancy with my writing, adding phrases I thought grand. My advisor would send me feedback like, “This is crap,” which stripped all of the pomp out of me. Lest you get indignant on my behalf (or you just feel like chortling at the baldness of that statement), she was right. (I almost typed write.) I wanted to sound good, to show the world, “Hey look at me. I can use figurative language to dress up my writing” (though it made no sense character-wise). There is nothing wrong with figurative language. But as my advisor pointed out, if I couldn’t write a basic sentence—one with good “bones” like a solid action verb and a clear subject; one that fits the narrative well, instead of drawing attention to itself simply because it exists to feed my ego—what’s the point? She wanted to feel something, but couldn’t, thanks to my pretentious language.

So that’s why the twiggy-ness of trees moves me. Trees are so well designed, so graceful in their form. Starkness becomes them—and good sentences.

  

Twiggy photo from thegloss.com. Tree photos by L. Marie.

Snow, Snow, Slow Your Roll

I’m sitting here as I write this, gazing out of the window at a gray-blue sky. We’ve had day after day after day after day of snowfall. And more is on the way, according to my brother and sister-in-law, who within hours of each other, texted the happy news to me.

   

Yeah, I know. That’s what winter is all about, Charlie Brown. Snow falls. Temperatures drop.

   

Anyway, I was complaining to Barbie about this recently. She’s a good listener. Even put down her magazine and gave me her full attention. I was explaining how the snowfall has caused me to slow down while driving.

She gave me a look as if to say, “Like that’s a bad thing?” Snow-Fro the Shoppet also concurred. She would. She was made for winter.

I like to zip around town, catching every green light, making good time, getting to my destination quickly. But zipping down a road, heedless of what the conditions are like, is how accidents happen. Having had my share of winter accidents, I learned the value of taking it slow. When you live with snow and ice, you adjust to the pace of the season.

Revision is that way. I’m revising a young adult fantasy novel for probably the twelfth time. I want to zip through it, like I zip down the street when the roads are ice free. But that’s what I did before. And I’ve discovered several things I missed in the earlier revisions. Like the gaps in logic or faulty descriptions I constantly find as I read the chapters.

My revision cave, where, yes, crocheting and video watching also occur

One chapter took me two days to work through. Two. Days. So, no matter how hard it’s been and how long it’s taking, I need to give myself permission to keep at it. “Slow your roll, L.,” I remind myself.

Winter is here in all of its messy glory. Just like revision. I’m trying to be present in the moment and present on the page in this season of change.

The sun is out, like a kiss of heaven. Though the snow lingers and threatens, I can’t help believing that I can weather the snow and the revision.

   

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets and Fluffy Snowball and Terri Tennis Ball Shopkins are registered trademarks of Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.