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.

The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other


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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen of Behind the Story!

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

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

Trying Something New

Check this out.

What’s that you say? Is that a red mummy? No, but thank you for asking.

When a teen asked me to make a Yarny for her, I almost passed up the challenge. What’s a Yarny? It is the main character of this video game.

What’s it made out of? Red yarn for the body and white yarn for the eyes. But a wire armature was needed to give it a shape. That was why I almost said no. I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to making wire armatures. But I had some needle nose pliers, wire, wire cutters, and the requisite colors of yarn. So, I was without an excuse to refuse.

I watched this video to see how to make it.

The armature took hours just to bend the wire (a time frame that video doesn’t show).

That’s a wrap!

Almost ready for my closeup

I hesitated to do this, because this kind of project was fairly new for me. Months ago, I’d bought wire, wire cutters, and needle nose pliers for another project, under the inspiration of another YouTube video. But I’d given up on that project early on, thinking it was too hard.

In this case, the fact that a teen asked me to do it made me rise to the challenge (especially since this was the second time she’d asked). I watched the above three-minute how-to video several times, and bent wire until my hands bled. And then I wised up and donned my winter gloves. Made working with wire a little easier.

So, my Yarny might not look like much to you. (It is a work in progress after all.) But to me, it represents the hurdle I had to jump: the fear of trying something new (which is basically the fear of failure—the lizard brain at work).

Now that this project is near completion, I feel silly for having been afraid. Maybe you’ve felt the same way about something. Sometimes fear comes, because we don’t have all of the facts. The video I watched on how to make Yarny didn’t present all of the facts, despite how inspiring it was. It didn’t explain the large amount of time it would take or the bleeding hands factor for novices.

But isn’t that what happens a lot of the time? We’re shown a quick, this-is-all-it-takes video, but not the actual cost of a project.

Sometimes we have this view of writing. Skilled authors make it seem easy. We watch them in interviews after their book was published and think, I could do that. What we don’t see are the days, months, and years of writing, rewriting, editing, crying, chocolate eating, rejection, chocolate eating, persevering, etc. It’s hard to fit all of those into a three-minute video.

Speaking of writing, as promised, I have book giveaway winners to reveal. I’m giving away books by Jill Weatherholt and Sheila Turnage. Go back to this post and this one if you are totally confused.

  

The winner of A Father for Bella by Jill Weatherholt is

Is

Is

Is

Is

Is

Gwen Plano!

The winner of the Mo & Dale Mysteries series by Sheila Turnage is

Is

Is

Is

Is

Ally Bean!

Please comment below to confirm. If you already have these books or wish to decline, please let me know, so that I can choose another winner. If you choose to accept what you won, please email me to let me know your street address or email if you prefer to receive an ebook.

Yarny wire skeleton image from playerattack.com.