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.

Something to Crow About: My 510th Post—A “Caws” to Celebrate

I forgot to check when I reached the five hundred-post milestone. That was actually several weeks ago. Whoops.

Recently, one of my grad school classmates reposted a comment on Facebook about some crows at a wildlife facility that said, “Caw,” to imitate the humans who said that to them. Someone who worked at the facility explained that the crows mocked the humans who assumed that crows only said, “Caawwww.” I was so fascinated by that remark, that I decided to search out videos about crows, especially after hearing a crow calling out as it flew by my home.

I wound up watching a twenty-two-minute TED Talk on crows and ravens by John Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington.

I totally get that you don’t have twenty minutes to watch a video. But the first few minutes at least are worth watching, because the way a crow problem solves in a clip Marzluff shows is fascinating.

Around the fourteen-minute mark, Marzluff plays an audio clip of a raven saying his name—Edgar (ha, how fitting). But here’s a different video of a raven saying hello.

With all of this talk of corvids, of course I think of City Jackdaw, Andy’s blog, since jackdaws are in the crow family.

It’s interesting that crows and ravens are usually portrayed as sinister in literature. Think of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and the many, many fantasy novels that mention them or feature them on their covers. This post lists several. Like this novel.

Even Raven, a member of the Teen Titans superhero group, is the one with dark powers. And there’s the Crow, a dude brought back to life by an unusual crow to seek revenge.

The fact that crows eat carrion probably edged them toward the dark side in the minds of many authors. But I think they get a bad rap. I watched a video of a crow saying hello to a squirrel, which seemed kinda sweet. You can watch it here.

Maybe it’s time for crows to get a break in literature. I’d love to hear of some stories where crows or ravens did something cool. Oh wait. I know one. It’s this one.

What do you think of crows? Please comment below, especially if you know a good story about crows or ravens.

Another place for cool facts about corvids: https://www.sciencealert.com/crows-ravens-corvids-best-birds-animal-intelligence

Crow photo from pubicdomainpictures.net. Raven from Teen Titans image from wallpapercave.com. Six of Crows book cover from Goodreads.

Why I Love Fairy Tales

I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I grew up reading fairy tales. Consequently, I developed a love for them that goes beyond what people mean when they say, “I love chocolate.” Oh yes. I went there.

When you Google “what is a fairy tale,” this comes up:

fair·y tale
ˈferē tāl/
noun
• a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands

• denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
modifier noun: fairy-tale “a fairy-tale romance”

I’ve always wondered why fairy tales were called that—fairy tales—when you can’t find fairies in some of them. According to Wikipedia:

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

I’ve also wondered why many people consider kids as the primary audience for fairy tales. Sure, my parents read them to me when I was a kid. But I never stopped wanting to read them as I grew older. I find them as soothing today as I did when I was a kid. I love being transported to a world different from my own, where magical activities are par for the course. This is why the stories I write primarily are fairy tales.

By why are they soothing? (Of course, not every fairy tale fits that description. There are many fairy tales—particularly those geared toward adults—that aren’t soothing at all. I can’t help thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2006 movie, which was quite unsettling. But I digress.) In an article entitled, “On the Importance of Fairy Tales,” at the website of Psychology Today (you can find it here), Sheila Kohler writes

Here, in these ancient tales, the small boy or girl can through the hero/heroine triumph over the large and often dangerous-seeming adults around him or her. . . . There is something essential about the repetition of the same words which soothes the child, nurtures the imagination and assuages his fears.

I also love fairy tales, because many follow the hero’s journey model. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) As the call to action is accepted, we get to travel along as the hero (male or female) sets out on a quest to find a lost treasure, vanquish a villain, or find true love. (Now I’m thinking of the “to blave” scene from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, a favorite of mine.)

Here are some of my other favorite fairy tales (or in the case of one, a book about an animated series), or favorite novels that have fairy tale elements (in no particular order; keep in mind that some books represent the series as a whole):

   

   

This seemingly untitled book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The spine of it is so worn out, I had to tape it.

    

    

 

   

  

There are many others I could have shown here (like Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, which I also have). Do you like fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?

My unicorn is just chillin’.

Fairy tale image from dreamstime.com. Legends of Windemere cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Courage to Keep Going

Awhile back (this post actually) I mentioned that I might have news. I do, but not the kind of news I wanted to post here. But the reason why I am, is because I recently read some posts by people who had to courage to write about their pain. So, here I go.

In the post I linked to above, I mentioned that an interested party (code word for agent) expressed interest in my middle grade novel. I felt like Cinderella, finally getting a chance to go to the ball. But after I revised the manuscript at the request of that person (I now know what it means to bleed over a manuscript) and turned it in, I later learned that the interested party was now disinterested.

Cinderella anticipating the ball

You know how it feels when you’ve heard dozens and dozens of no’s, only to finally have someone say yes, but then to have that person turn around and say, “On second thought, no”? One of my sisters-in-law told me, “It’s like the rug was snatched out from under you.” A feeling she has also experienced recently.

Imagine this bear pillow is a rug. Now, imagine it being taken away.

I found myself spiraling into depression—an unfortunately familiar place, where getting out of bed seemed pointless. If you don’t suffer from depression, you might not understand that. And I get it. There are worse things in life than being rejected. But when you’re depressed, everything looks gray.

Some really good friends refused to allow me to stay in that dark place. So, with their prayers and encouragement, I got up. Took in a really entertaining movie (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) with a friend who also has had a hard time. Started a new book. Began revising some of the old ones.

Perhaps a disappointment like this might not rock you. You might even have a “Why don’t you do this?” piece of advice ready and waiting. Believe me, I get a lot of advice. To which I answer with this image:

We all have a path we follow. Some of us go in one direction. Some of us go in another. My path might not look the same as yours. The path I’m on is not an easy one (nor am I suggesting that others are). But it is the one I’m on. Believe me, I’m not a masochist who delights in my own pain. I’ve wanted to give up so many times.

I can’t help thinking of someone who came to speak to my SCBWI group. After 300 rejections for one book (you read that right), an agent accepted her manuscript. It was later published as the first of a three-book series.

Would you have the courage to keep going after that many rejections? That author’s persistence humbles me, especially when I consider that I only have a fraction of that amount. (And I’d thought having well over 60 rejections for one book was bad.) I think the title of a book I’m about to give away says it all: Keep Calm and Sparkle On! That’s what that author did. That’s what I plan to do.

If that’s not a segue, then I don’t know what one is. Let’s move on to the winners of the books that were the subjects of the interview posts here and here. They are Legends of Windemere: Warlord of the Forgotten Age by Charles Yallowitz

Cover by Jason Pedersen

and The Wish List #2: Keep Calm and Sparkle On! by Sarah Aronson.

The winner of Warlord of the Forgotten Age is

Is

Is

Is

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

The winner of Keep Calm and Sparkle On! is

Is

Is

Is

Penny from Life on the Cutoff!

Winners, please confirm below. Thank you to all who have put up with my ramblings over the years.

Jumanji movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Path sign from geeksundergrace.com. Book covers and author photos courtesy of the authors. Other photos by L. Marie.