Check This Out: An Impossible Distance to Fall

On the blog today is the second of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates, the marvelous Miriam McNamara. No stranger to the blog is Miriam. (Click here for her last visit.) She’s here to talk about her young adult historical novel, An Impossible Distance to Fall, published by Sky Pony Press on July 2. (Click here for a synopsis.)

   

Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein. After our conversation, stay tuned to hear about a giveaway of An Impossible Distance to Fall.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Miriam: 1. I’ve never flown a biplane or wing walked, but like Birdie, I’ve always loved to dance! The dance scenes were some of the most fun for me to write as I played with how movement and emotion interact in the body creatively. Yum!


2. I went to college pretty young—when I was sixteen—around the time a lot of upheaval in my family of origin was happening. When I got to school, I was kind of adopted by a group of queer upperclassmen who looked out for me and invited me to things, and made sure I was doing okay. Birdie’s departure from her family and integration into the barnstorming circus is based on that experience.
3. I started this novel during the Recession after 2008, when the stock market crash of 1929 and how it affected people seemed particularly relevant. My generation and the young adults of today are still dealing with a lot of financial uncertainty, so I think these lessons of the past are particularly interesting.


4. I have a lot of tattoos, but Birdie’s tattoo that she gets in the novel is based on a stick-and-poke tattoo that I gave my friend Ivy in college. It was a flock of bird silhouettes, just like Birdie’s, and done in the same manner, with a needle and thread and India ink.

Miriam at her book signing at MOON PALACE BOOKS in Minneapolis

El Space: Your last novel was about pirates. What was the inspiration behind this novel about wing walkers and a barnstorming circus in 1930?
Miriam: A nonfiction writer read aloud from a work-in-progress about a real-life wing walker from the ’20s at a workshop I attended, and my mind was blown. I’d never heard of such a thing. As I listened to her read I thought, I would NEVER take such an insane risk as walking out on the wing of a flying airplane! But at exactly the same time, I remembered who I was when I was sixteen, and knew that that me would have done it in a heartbeat. It made me want to write a story about that person.

El Space: What do you hope teens will gain from your main character Birdie’s life and the times in which she lived?
Miriam: Birdie’s external life explodes when the stock market crashes—but what causes her deepest pain is the loss of her father when he disappears. For young Birdie, life and her dad both seemed ideal. She has to learn to accept that things aren’t always perfect. People and circumstance will let you down over and over. You have to love and honor the good stuff while acknowledging that other stuff sucks and it’s okay to be hurt and to grieve. And when your life explodes or falls apart, it also leads to so much possibility and openness that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Storms bring rainbows, you know?

El Space: Birdie interacts with a large cast of characters who aid in her evolution as a character. Who were the most fun or the most challenging to write about?
Miriam: I think the most challenging for me was Gilda, the woman that Birdie’s father chases after. Birdie initially thinks of her as this Jezebel character who has stolen her father away. It was challenging to really communicate Gilda’s complexity. She plays this seductive character professionally as a lounge singer, but she’s actually a real person who did nothing wrong, and Birdie’s anger is misplaced. It took me a few tries to show who she really is beyond the role she plays in Birdie’s life, which leads to a lot of growth in Birdie.

The most fun to write, though! It’s so hard to choose. I loved writing Colette, the tattooed lady; she’s so cranky and deadpan and soooo NOT impressed with Birdie—but then at the crux of the novel, Colette lets Birdie know that she sees and values the person struggling inside of Birdie’s perfect veneer.

But then there’s June. Sigh. . . . I love writing a love interest! June is so sexy. I loved writing her lanky tomboy-in-a-flight-suit Southern Charmer personality.

 

El Space: This is your second historical fiction novel. What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you?
Miriam: I love reading historical fiction, but queer people, especially queer women, have been so written out of history, always relegated to tragic plot devices if they are included at all. I want to write them back into history, and give them so much love and life and joy along with their struggles.

El Space: What was your research process? How did you keep the details you gleaned from research from overwhelming the story you wanted to tell? [One of the tips offered for historical fiction writers in this post here.]
Miriam: With my first novel, I often felt like the details overtook my narrative! The struggle is real. With this novel, I let the narrative guide me into my research. How did banks fail? How did the larger stock market crash impact the financial chain? Who were some wing walkers and women pilots and barnstormers I could use for inspiration? I tried to stick to the story I wanted to tell without getting sidelined by too many interesting details as I came across them. Once I had a strong narrative, then I went back to add in a lot more fun historical stuff—and that led to a lot of richness being layered in once the story was there.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Miriam: This year I decided I was going to read as many books by queer people about queer people as possible. I am very inspired by LGBTQ+ authors telling their stories, especially for young readers. So over the past few months I’ve been super inspired by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, some VCFA friends who are writing all sorts of queer stories; I finally was introduced to Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novels, which are amazing; I read awesome books by Kacen Callender and Lev Rosen and Alex Gino; and a Minneapolis author, Junauda Petrus, has a queer young adult love story coming out this fall called The Stars and the Blackness Between Them that I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard excerpts read aloud, and I know it’s going to inspire the hell out of me.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Miriam: I’m taking a break from research and writing a contemporary YA novel, but I also have an idea for a historical fantasy that I’m itching to write. I’m definitely taking it slow and feeling out where I want to go from here. Publishing two books in the past two years has been such a whirlwind, accompanied by a lot of life craziness. I could go anywhere from here, you know? Kinda like Birdie. Anything is possible from here. . . .

Thanks, Miriam, for being my guest!

Looking for Miriam? Look no further than her website or Twitter. On Instagram she is booklovemiriam.

Looking for An Impossible Distance to Fall? (Taken out of context, that question is very interesting.) Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Also look no further than your very own mailbox or Kindle (if you prefer), since one of you will get a copy of this book simply by commenting below! Winner to be announced one day next week.

Royal Bee looks skeptically on as Neon practices her wing walker routine. “Looks more like a mummy walking than like Birdie,” Royal Bee quips.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Miriam McNamara. Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Wing walker image from wallpaperim.net. Dance image from clipground.com. Newspaper clipping from balkanplumbing.com. Old airplane photo from pxhere.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out: Brother, Sister, Me and You and Other National Geographic Kids Books

It’s not every day that I get to welcome to the blog one of my awesome grad school advisors. But here today is the one and only Mary Quattlebaum! She’s here to talk about the National Geographic Kids books she wrote, which were published by Penguin Random House, and include Brother, Sister, Me and You.

      

  Author photo by Michelle Rivet

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Mary: 1. I am the oldest of seven kids.
2. My favorite food is popcorn.
3. One of my favorite jobs was as an 18th century tavern wench for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
4. All the dogs I’ve lived with as an adult have been rescue dogs, in one way or the other. One dog, Charlie, even conveyed with the house we bought, because the owner was going to put him in a shelter.

Mary with her elderly border collie Shine. Photo by Christopher David.

El Space: You’ve written a ton of books for kids, including your rhyming Jo MacDonald series and other picture books like Mighty Mole and Super Soil, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and Pirate vs. Pirate, as well as your Jackson Jones novel series. Today, let’s talk about the National Geographic Kids books you wrote in the last few years: Brother, Sister, Me and You; National Geographic Kids Chapters: Hero Dogs; and National Geographic Kids Chapters Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! Many of your stories feature animals and the environment. Please tell us why that was important to you.

 

Mary: I’ve always been curious about the natural world, probably because I grew up in the country. And now there’s the added concern about the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment. Humans are deeply connected to other species, historically and in the present moment; we’re all part of an ecosystem. With my books—whether fiction or nonfiction—I guess I try to bring that connection to the fore and celebrate it. Plus, animals and plants are pretty amazing! Did you know that beaver kits help to care for younger siblings? And that a female guppy gives birth to live fry—sometimes 200 within a few hours?

El Space: Wow! I did not know that! How did you come to write nonfiction? What is the research process like for each project?
Mary: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming nonfiction books! I’m looking forward to reading them!

El Space: Thank you. 😊
Mary: Now to your question: I’ve always enjoyed research, and for years I’ve written freelance articles for The Washington Post and other publications. But I had a palm-to-the-forehead moment when I wrote my Jo MacDonald books and realized the pleasures and challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for kids. Now, I’m doing both narrative nonfiction and straight nonfiction books. The narrative nonfiction chapter books often involve interviews—similar to what I do as a freelance journalist—as well the usual deep research into primary and secondary sources for traditional nonfiction.

   

El Space: I always roll my eyes when someone comments that writing a book for young children “must be easy.” What were the challenges of writing these books?
Mary: Well, when writing nonfiction, one big challenge is to ensure the accuracy of each fact, while presenting it in a way that’s going to engage kids. So, writers are always thinking carefully about sound, rhythm, sentence structure, etc. For Brother, Sister, Me and You, for example, I wanted a range of animals—not just cute mammals—and I wanted strong verbs so that children could act out the movements of the featured animals. So, I watched a lot of animal videos to make sure those verbs were accurate as well as fun. I also went to a pet store and looked at a tank of guppies to make sure that those little fish did, indeed, “flash with finny flicks.”

El Space: You teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and you review books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and probably others I’m forgetting. How do you fit everything in?
Mary: Writers with families seem to juggle so much—deadlines, family responsibilities, teaching! Now, that my daughter is in college, time pressures have eased a bit, which makes for more time to walk the dog and garden—or at least think about gardening 😊—and to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to work with motivated writing students who want to learn and grow, whether in Washington, DC, where I live, or at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had a great time working with you, L. Marie, and I’m thrilled for you with your forthcoming books.

El Space: You are making me blush, Mary! When I was a student, you told me to experiment with poetry based on the prompts in The Aspiring Poet’s Journal by Bernard Friot. I copied this quote from a handout you gave me: “The book gets one thinking not just about words on the page but about ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world in a creative, ever-present way.” Why is the exercise of writing poetry helpful for novelists or nonfiction writers?


Mary: So glad you’re still exploring poetry and wordplays! For me, anyway, there is nothing like the reading and writing of poetry to encourage a deep awareness of and appreciation for the possibilities of language. Every word and every mark of punctuation is important, sound and rhythm are paramount. And the writing of poetry seems to call for an attentiveness to the world, an alertness to the extraordinary in even ordinary moments. Dogs seem to be wonderful models for living in the present moment. I love seeing how our dog takes in his surroundings, with curiosity and gusto.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary: I’m now beavering away on an animal-related early-reader project.

Thank you, Mary, for being my guest!

Looking for Mary? Look no farther than her website! If you subscribe to The Washington Post or Washington Parent, look for her book reviews.

Looking for Brother, Sister, Me and You or any of Mary’s other books? Check your local bookstore, Amazon, Dawn Publications, Indiebound, or Barnes and Noble or your own doorstep, since one of you will be given a copy of this book or any of Mary’s books of your choosing simply because you commented below.

Since this week I will feature another wonderful author, I will announce the winners of both giveaways sometime next week!

The Squeezamals and Henry’s bear wonder when Mary will write a book about their friendship. They’re animals . . . sort of.

Book covers courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum, her website, or were found at Dawn Publications. Book spread courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum. See above for more photo attributions. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Back from Retreat

All last week I was at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania—the main reason why I didn’t post last week or do my usual blog visiting. I was there for another Unworkshop—a fancy way of saying that I stayed in a cabin and wrote, instead of attending a workshop orchestrated by someone else. I went with four friends who also were there to finish a middle grade or young adult novel or at least to discuss strategies for getting back in the writing game.

 

You know how the first time you go someplace, you take a million photos of random things like trees and rocks?

   

Everything you see is viewed with wonder because you’re away from home and eager to see fresh sights. Well, I didn’t take as many photos this time. Oh, I still have photos of trees and rocks and the occasional building. But this time, I was more focused on getting things done. Oh and resting too. I needed that time away.

   

  

I met a bunch of lovely writers. Ate great food. Took walks.

But my guess is you’re probably here to find out who won the preorder of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, a middle grade time travel novel written by Nicole Valentine. If you’re confused by that sentence, click here.

  

This novel will be released in October 2019. A preorder of it, however, has been won by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles. You will receive this book upon its release this fall. Something to look forward to when the cold weather returns! Please comment below to confirm!

Thank you to all who commented.

Henry was upset that I was gone for several days and had left him behind. So he refused to face forward for this photo. (Yes, he gave me the turned back like a cat.) But at least he brought flowers.

Author photo and cover courtesy of Nicole Valentine. Other photos by L. Marie.

Joy to the World!

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

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

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

   

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

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller -Lachmann—Author, Editor, Teacher!

Next is Stephen Bramucci.

   

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

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman—Plain and Fancy!

Last but not least is Melanie Crowder.

   

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

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy—City Jackdaw!

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

Happy holidays!

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

2018 Holiday Giveaway

  

It’s almost Christmas! Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, you can still receive a gift! Part of the Christmas story involves Magi bringing gifts to the newborn King. (Feel free to hum “We Three Kings” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as you read this.) No one really knows if there were three Magi, also known as wise men, as the songs declare. But I know that right here, right now, there are three wise people—three delightful authors—who are part of the gift-giving process! Say hello to Sarah Aronson, Stephen Bramucci, and Melanie Crowder!

  

I couldn’t be more excited to have them here! Sarah is represented by Sarah Davies. Stephen is represented by Sara Crowe. And Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. They have written several books between them. Some are already out; some are yet to come in 2019. It’s as easy as ABC to give books away when you have authors like this.

Sarah Aronson’s picture book (published by Beach Lane Books) and middle grade fantasy novel (book 4 of a series published by Scholastic)

  

Click here for a guest post Sarah wrote for this blog, which mentioned two of the books in her Wish List series. These books will debut in 2019. Click here and here to find out more about them.

Stephen Bramucci’s middle grade adventure novel (book 2 of a series published by Bloomsbury)

Click here to find a synopsis of this book. Click here for the interview on this blog with Stephen about book 1.

Melanie Crowder’s middle grade fantasy novel (book 1 of a duology published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers)


Click here to find a synopsis of this book. Click here for another interview with Melanie about one of her books.

Okay, I’ve blabbed enough. Time for a mini-gab with the authors!

El Space: Without giving any spoilers, what would you give your main character as a gift this holiday season if you could? It doesn’t have to be a physical gift. It can be a quality or a value. What was one of the best gifts you received when you were a kid? Why?

Sarah: In the fairy godmother world, just like the regular one, everyone likes presents! And yummy food! In book four [of The Wish List series], Isabelle even gets to try some latkes! When I was a young mom celebrating Chanukkah with two kids, eight nights of presents proved daunting! Also, I was a present procrastinator, especially when Chanukkah fell after Christmas! So I began giving them coupons. I made all kinds, things like One Night Out with Mom! or Get Out of Cleaning or Your Choice for Dinner. Soon it became a family tradition! Since Isabelle is now part of the family, I made her some coupons, too. I knew just what she’d want—since she and I are a lot alike! And although we are both people who like making others HAPPILY EVER AFTER (or HEA), we also like shoes. Especially sneakers. Since now that book four is done, we are also both on the go!

The BEST gift I ever received was a blank book. An invitation to be creative. To find my voice. Thank you, Aunt Ann!

Stephen: If I could give Ronald Zupan anything this year, it would be a gift certificate written by his parents for one adventure taken together. I think what he wants, more than anything, is time with them, so that gift would resonate the most. Of course, that doesn’t take up much room under the tree, so I think maybe a new adventure hat would be in order too. And any master adventurer would be happy with a sharpening stone for his or her cutlass. You know, essential stuff.

The real gift Ronald seeks is a genuine sense of self-confidence derived from within, not from others. But he’s working on that and making solid progress.

My favorite gift I ever received as a kid was a scooter. It was freedom for me—a way to get around and to connect with other kids. When you’re young, mobility is everything. Or it was for me, because my parents didn’t want to shuttle me everywhere and I wanted to be out and about. So all my favorite gifts gave me a sense of freedom—scooter, skateboard, bike, and a dog as an adventure companion.

Melanie: (1) If I could gift Griffin anything for the holidays, I’d give him a photographic memory, which would really come in handy. . . . I can do that, right?

El Space: Yup.

Melanie: That, and maybe some Dramamine for his first trip through the portal. (2) I remember one year in late elementary school (the 80s, folks), I got these gold slouch pleather boots. I was in love! I don’t think I took those things off until they fell apart. But really, the best gift was those years when my parents loaded us all into the car and drove over the pass so we could spend the holidays with our cousins. It was magical. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Thank you, Sarah, Stephen, and Melanie for being my guests. For those of you reading this post, here’s something else you should know:

Sarah Aronson became a writer the complicated way! After (A) working for an exercise guru, (B) becoming a physical therapist, and (C) having two kids, running a school and selling books, she (D) took a dare and dove headfirst into writing all kinds of books for kids and teens. Just like Rube Goldberg, Sarah believes in the power of play, taking chances, and creativity. This February, read the end of The Wish List series: Survival of the Sparkliest! and in March, her first picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg. Click here to visit her website.

Stephen Bramucci is the author of The Danger Gang series and National Geographic Kids Chapters: Rock Stars! He’s rowed down the Mekong Delta in a traditional x’ampan, ventured deep into the Australia outback with Aboriginal elders, and explored the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. He has a true passion for animals and his first book helped to support Orangutan conservation in Borneo. Click here to visit his website.

Melanie Crowder is the acclaimed author of several books for young readers, including Audacity, Three Pennies, An Uninterrupted View of the Sky, A Nearer Moon and Parched, as well as the new middle grade duology The Lighthouse between the Worlds. The author lives under the big blue Colorado sky with a wife, two kids, and one good dog. Click here to visit her website. (She has won multiple awards, y’all!)

Looking for their books? Click on each title below.

Just Like Rube Goldberg
The Wish List 4: Survival of the Sparkliest!
The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts!
The Lighthouse between the Worlds

I’m giving away one copy of each author’s books. There will be three winners. Just to be fair and keep it to one book per author, since Sarah has two on preorder, you get to decide which one of Sarah’s books you’d like preordered if you’re chosen. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be announced on Christmas Eve—December 24. (If you are out of town and your name is chosen, don’t worry. You have until December 31 to acknowledge by posting a comment.)

Henry thinks some of these authors should write a book about him. He’s ready for his fifteen minutes of fame.

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from Goodreads and Simon & Schuster. Coupons by Sarah Aronson. Other 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.

Writing Outside the Box

Having made the decision to write a middle grade novel starring a preteen boy, someone of the opposite sex and generation, I found myself falling into dangerous territory. You know—the territory marked with generalities. “Boys like to do such and such (play sports and videogames, speak one sentence for every eight a girl might utter). Therefore, I can make him do such and such.” This was simply because many of the boys I know (or knew awhile back) did those things.

Horror of horrors, I had written myself into a box. The result was a character as fake as snow in a can.

This

is not this.

How dumb, right? Generalities are not true of all; therefore, you can’t build a good character that way. Only by spending time with boys this age (and those older and younger) did the revelation hit: I needed to stop seeing this character as a stock character—as by-the-numbers as box cake mix—and see him as an individual whose heart and mind I could reveal. (And before you get ready to scream at me, I like many box cake mixes, particularly when someone else does the baking, and adds his or her own touches to make it special. But I digress.)

Case in point, I had to a pick a kid up from school a few times. Both parents were busy, so they asked me if I could pick him up and stay with him until one of them returned home. Now, many people who know this kid are of the belief that he barely talks. Not so. He talked for almost an hour about a Legend of Zelda game. I was the one who barely said a word other than, “Really? . . . Huh. . . . And then what?” He then segued to how much he loved creating music mixes using the software on his computer.

Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Other things I discovered: Yes, watching a Barbie video was torture for him, no matter how much his younger sister begged him. And no, he would rather not play baseball or football. Dodge ball? He was the king. Badminton and volleyball? Yup. You could sign him up.

I love this kid! Thanks to him, I felt encouraged to think outside of the box—to avoid relying on generalities—to make my character someone a reader might care about. Someone who seems real.

   

What do you do to go outside of the box as you develop a character? I would appreciate any tips you might have, especially if you’re writing about a character who is very different from you.

Link is from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wiki. Duncan Hines cake mix found somewhere on the internet, thanks to bing.com. Other photos by L. Marie. The mini figures are My Mini MixieQs by Mattel. Carrying case also by Mattel.