Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

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Cover Reveal: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I’m always excited to see great book covers. And when a cover belongs to a book written by one of my VCFA classmates, well, I’m overjoyed! Feast your eyes on the cover for The Unbinding of Mary Reade, a young adult historical novel written by the awesome Miriam McNamara. Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency.

Summary

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession―and her safety―depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything―her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade will be published by Sky Pony Press on February 6, 2018. Now, let’s talk to Miriam!

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Miriam: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They are such mythical people: two women who joined a pirate crew in a time when women had no power. I was particularly drawn to Mary Reade, who was raised as a boy by her family―so the story goes―as part of an elaborate scheme to keep them off the streets. The idea of someone being raised as someone they know they are not is very timely, even if Mary Reade’s story is unique. I thought it would be an interesting lens to examine gender through. As a queer teenager, it was hard for me to unravel the connections and differences between gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story about a character for whom no easy lines could be drawn regarding either. Mary doesn’t fit any convenient labels, so she really has to figure out who she is starting from scratch.

I love outsider cultures, the communities that are formed by those who don’t fit into the mainstream. I love to explore what happens when people break the rules, especially when they break them just by being who they are. I love to explore what happens when people follow the rules and are still let down by them, as so many people often are. I also just wanted to write a love story about queer girls, because there aren’t enough of them.

El Space: What a gorgeous cover! What, if any, suggestions were you expected to provide for the cover? Did you have any say over what was depicted on it?
Miriam: I was not expecting to have any say regarding the cover, so I was thrilled when my editor, Rachel Stark at Sky Pony Press, asked me if I had any input. I found a couple of covers of other books that I absolutely loved and put together a mood board with the covers and a few other images, and wrote a paragraph or two about what I envisioned. Fonts, color schemes, images, etc. Nothing too specific. When I sent it to Rachel, it turned out that we’d picked out mostly the exact same book covers as comps! So I knew we were on the right track.

El Space: Who worked on the cover? How long was the process?
Miriam: It was almost exactly a month later when I heard back from Rachel. I was psyched about the cover, but both of us had the same concern about one tiny detail. Rachel relayed the feedback to the design team, and I received the final cover the next day!

El Space: How did you react when you saw the cover?
Miriam: I was really pleased. One idea I’d thrown out was having the font of the title be kind of like a binding coming undone, with a ribbony, fabric-like quality to it. You can see that they nailed that! And I love the ship! And the color scheme is PERFECT. It’s got a great romantic feel to it. So yes, I’m very happy!


Author Bio

Miriam McNamara was born in Ireland, raised in the Southern US, and is a new, proud resident of the Midwest. She has dressed up as some variation on pirate for Halloween more years than she has not—her favorite still being Rollerskating Pirate, circa 2003. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where The Unbinding of Mary Reade won the Norma Fox Mazer Award for a YA work-in-progress. She lives with her wife, two dogs, and two cats in a tiny house in North Minneapolis, but she also calls Asheville, North Carolina home. You can find her at www.miriammcnamara.com or on Twitter at @McNamaraMiriam.

Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Book cover courtesy of the author.

Check This Out: The Spirit Well

Return to Windemere in THE SPIRIT WELL!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Born from the light and darkness, Dariana can no longer avoid her fate.

The final corrupted temple stands between the champions and Baron Kernaghan having their great battle. Only one problem: the Compass Key refuses to work with Dariana, who long ago wiped all memories of the Spirit Well from her mind. Now, they are forced to follow a trail of clues that Dariana’s former self left behind centuries ago. It is a path that will lead the champions into a part of their friend’s past that could tear them all apart.

Will the bonds of friendship be stronger than the call of blood?

Grab it on Amazon!

Add it to your Goodreads ‘To Read’ List!

Excerpt: I’m Sorry . . . Again

“I’m sorry, but I told you that my powers make the Compass Key argumentative when it comes to the Spirit Well,” Dariana sheepishly explains while rubbing her clear ring. She smiles when Fizzle lands on her head, the drite’s cool tail running down her spine. “This is very scary for me. None of the champions have made it to this temple, much less the final battle with my father. It’s hard to take in after this destiny being my entire life for so long. I used to always dream of how I would handle my temple, but things are different now that it’s no longer a distant dream. What if I make a mistake and get someone killed?”

“We trust you, my friend, and know that you will not fail,” Timoran whispers as he slides the Compass Key across the table. He is confused when the relic sparks at her touch and gets pushed back into his hand. “That is fairly disheartening. If you cannot use the Compass Key then there is no way to find this Spirit Well. Perhaps it does not like your physical touch and will respond to your telepathy. I wonder why the gods would create this obstacle.”

“It’s possible that we did this,” Delvin suggests while using one of his enchanted rings to create a delicious cup of coffee. He gestures for the barbarian to throw the relic over to him, but the red-haired barbarian refuses. “You’re right, Timoran. Probably not a good idea to toss something like that around. Anyway, we had the Compass Key warded against agents of the Baron. They aren’t able to see it, which means they can’t find or use it. The decision made sense at the time, but things are different now. Maybe our spell has a small effect on Dariana. Not saying you’re working with the Baron, but there could be enough of an aural touch to cause this problem. Do you think we should cancel the spells, Nyx?”

The channeler heats up a cup of tea, which she sips at while considering the possibility of her magic being the issue. “They should stay because I don’t think they’re the problem. Dariana said this has happened before, which means the gods made a mistake. Sorry for how that came out. Gabriel, who better not get angry at this conversation, created the Compass Key first and then turned Dariana into a champion. He couldn’t fix the problem thanks to the Law of Influence, so it’s remained all this time. Though he had to have created something to help us move on.”

“Maybe we have to find Isaiah and he’ll lead the way,” Sari says from the couch. Flipping to her feet, she joins her friends and immediately takes a strawberry off Luke’s plate. “He hasn’t been much help since the first temple, so one has to wonder what his purpose is. I doubt we need his protection any more, which means he has to have another role to play. What do you think, Dari?”

The telepath rubs her temples while scanning the city for a sign of the fireskin, part of her praying he is not nearby. Dariana finds evidence that Isaiah has been spying on them until recently, but the caster is long gone. She considers tracking the faint trail and goes as far as the outer wall, which is where the psychic tracks make an odd leap into the sky. The strain of following Isaiah any further makes Dariana pull back and return to find that everyone is staring at her again. Realizing that she can no longer delay the inevitable, she gets out of her chair and kneels to her friends. Fizzle is still clinging to her head, which makes the apologetic bow both amusing and awkward.

“I know I say this a lot, but I really am sorry, my friends,” Dariana states while keeping her forehead pressed to the stone floor. She looks up at the sound of rustling feet and is surprised to see that everyone is approaching her. “Long ago, I managed to avoid being put back to sleep long enough to track down the Spirit Well. My curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to know where my path would meet its end. I was still forced to wipe my memory of the location, but I do know that I left a map behind. There are a few clues that I buried in my subconscious where even I could not dislodge them after erasing the original discovery. More may come to me as we get closer, but all I know now is that we should go to Rodillen. I was hoping the Compass Key would work and we could avoid this extra journey.”

“Like our luck would be that good,” Nyx mutters while she helps Dariana stand.

Need to catch Legends of Windemere from the beginning? Then click on the covers below!

You can start for FREE . . .

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Or grab the $4.99 ‘3 in 1’ bundles!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen 3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen
3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

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Also Available in Single eBooks:

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover art by Jason Pedersen

Cover art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Interested in a new adventure? Then grab your Kindle & dive back into the world of Windemere! Don’t forget an apple for Fizzle.

Author PhotoAbout the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

[L. Marie here. I plan to give away a copy of The Spirit Well to a commenter. The winner will be announced toward the end of the week.]

What Is “Nothing”?

Image the following conversation. Perhaps you’ve participated in one just like it.

Mom (or Dad): How was school?
Son (or Daughter): It was okay.
Mom (or Dad): Just “okay”? What happened?
Son (or Daughter): Nothing.

As an astute parent, you know “something” had to have happened. After all, your child went to school and participated in classes. But for that child, “nothing” probably meant, “Nothing I was interested in” or “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

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Having given manuscripts to beta readers to evaluate from time to time, I have had a similar conversation with them.

Me: How was it [the manuscript]?
Beta reader: It was okay for the most part.
Me: Just “okay”? What happened?
Beta reader: Nothing.

Okay, maybe the conversation was not that curt. But over the years I’ve had beta readers mark certain scenes or chapters with the assessment nothing is happening here. Clearly, I hadn’t presented a bunch of blank pages to the readers. “Something” happened on those pages. But for the readers, nothing is happening here meant, “nothing out of the ordinary” or “nothing that helped develop the plot.”

Now, I ask you, when you read a book or watch a show, what would make you think, Nothing is happening here? Perhaps the following factors might resonate with you.

Tension and Pacing
The issue of “nothing” sometimes crops up when tension dissipates. Now, some breaks in tension are necessary. A while ago, I wrote a post on Ma space (you can find it here) which included a quote by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki on this subject. Ma space is an interval between two movements or sections. Miyazaki’s movies provide great examples of respites coupled with action scenes. However, some breaks in tension are detrimental to the story.

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For example, I wrote a young adult novel in which the heroine was accused of being a liar and had to vindicate herself by proving that she did indeed see what she claimed to have seen. (I hope someday you’ll get to read it.) One of my beta readers wrote nothing is happening here in a couple of the chapters. The issue was pacing. In one chapter, after being ridiculed by a crowd of people, the heroine declared that she was going off to find proof to back up her story—a scene of high tension. But instead of sending her on her way, I included two chapters in which she took a nap and then woke up to have a meal and overhear a conversation taking place between two characters. This conversation had nothing to do with the heroine’s plight. Nothing to see here, folks.

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Nap taking and eavesdropping, while “something,” aren’t very interesting to a reader. I had to cut those chapters to ramp up the tension and make the reader want to continue reading.

Lack of Character Conflict or Development
This probably goes without saying, but if you’ve read this blog even once before, you know I usually state the obvious. Characters need to be more than interchangeable talking heads. They have to serve a purpose. Conflict is one way they serve a purpose. Having fully realized secondary characters in conflict with a main character is a great way to avoid the “nothing is happening” designation.

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In the young adult novel I mentioned above, my main character had a twin brother who was kind of goofy. I liked the dude. His antics made me smile. Well, an advisor of mine read the early chapters of the book and said, “He’s got to go. He serves no purpose.” I soon realized she was right. The twin brother was not in conflict with anyone. He was kind of like a chair in a room—useful for sitting on, sure, but just taking up space otherwise.

The advisor also mentioned that another character—one I had decided would not be mentioned beyond one chapter—had more potential. Like the main character, just about everyone in town had a conflict with him. Most importantly, he had a conflict with the main character. So I turned him into the sidekick of the heroine on her journey. The novel was all the better for it.

Have you ever said, or been told, that “nothing” is happening in a chapter or scene you’ve written or a book you’ve read? What did you have to do to change that dynamic?

Japanese character from Wikipedia. Nothing here sign from outwardfromnothingness.com. Sleeping person image from 1001freedownloads.com. Characters image from standoutbooks.com.

Why This Works

Hello, and welcome to an occasional series in which I guess, using nonscientific means, why something works. By occasional, I mean a series that I might forget about until six months down the road. And then I’ll go, “Oh yeah, I started that series. I should do another installment.”

And yes, I’ll reveal the winner of Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich also. **CoughJillWeatherholtcough.** See what I did there? 🙂 (Congrats, Jill!)

phillippediedrichbyselinaroman      25330167

In a previous post, I mentioned Miraculous: Tales of LadyBug & Cat Noir, a French animated series released internationally. Okay, I didn’t mention the international release in that previous post. I’m telling you that stuff now. The concept came from Thomas Astruc, an animator aided by Jeremy Zag, the cofounder of Zagtoon, and later by Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, and SK Broadband, to introduce a series starring a female superhero who saves the citizens of Paris. Thomas Astruc also is the writer and director of the show. Thanks also to other financial partners like Bandai, Curlstone, and Disney, people around the world can see this show. In the States, we can see the English dubbed version on Nickelodeon.

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Ladybug is a French teen (Marinette Dupain-Cheng) with a crime fighting partner—Cat Noir (Adrien Agreste), who goes to her school in Paris. Neither knows the alter ego of the other. You’d think identification would be obvious, since Ladybug has the same hairstyle and easily identifiable eyes the color of bluebells as Marinette. And Adrien’s artfully styled blond hair is the same, though his eyes are somewhat changed due to his mask. Sigh. It’s the same principle as superheroes like Superman, where a pair of glasses is all that stands between someone identifying him as Clark Kent. You have to suspend disbelief so hard, you almost get whiplash.

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I’ve seen about fifteen episodes of the show. And I can tell you that in every episode, the same scenario plays out. Someone gets his or her feelings hurt. A villain named Hawk Moth (below) releases an evil butterfly (yep—an evil butterfly) called an akuma to “evilize” the hurt individual. This action completely subjugates that person’s will to Hawk Moth’s control and turns him or her into a villain. What does Hawk Moth want? The tiny creatures called kwami who live in the Miraculous jewelry that empower Marinette and Adrien for a limited amount of time. He also wants total power. So he uses innocent people to wreak havoc. But Ladybug has a special ability to “de-evilize” the person under Hawk Moth’s control. (Next time you do something wrong, you might use the akuma as an excuse. I plan to.)

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Some of the scenes are very repetitive. In every episode you see the same Ladybug/Cat Noir transformation scenes, hear the same dialogue (“Tikki, spots on!”/“Plagg, claws out!”), and see the same scene where Ladybug de-evilizes someone. Also, the characters do not break new ground in general. Marinette is the clumsy teen who longs for hot-guy Adrien. How many times have we seen the clumsy girl in a story? Dozens. A rich diva at school picks on everyone (except Adrien) and has a sycophant friend. Sounds like the storyline of Mean Girls.

So why are the people who watch this show (including myself) obsessed with it? The “incredible graphic design” as Aton Soumache, the CEO of Method Animation, explained in an interview on one of the Miraculous DVDs. And this is all thanks to Thomas Astruc and Nathanaël Bronn, the art director on the show. The show has a manga look with a gorgeous Parisian backdrop. Thus, the characters are attractive and winsome, and the action sequences inventive and entertaining. For example, in each episode, Ladybug gains an object to use to foil Hawk Moth’s plan. She has to figure out how to use what she has to defeat the “evilized” person. Sometimes, the method involves a MacGyver-like bit of ingenuity.

And each episode also has a touch of romance. As I mentioned, Marinette pines over Adrien, who views her as a friend. But Cat Noir pines over Ladybug, who finds him annoying. Most of all, this is a fun show where superheroes save the day while learning something about themselves.

What I love about this production, is that people around the world have banded together to produce and distribute it. They’re committed to the cause. And that is the number one reason why this show works: it has a committed group of people behind it. Wouldn’t we all like that level of commitment behind our creations?

Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop. Hawk Moth from nick.com. Author photo by Selina Roman. Book cover from Goodreads.

Guest Post by Phillippe Diederich: Writing from the Heart without Flinching

Today it is my privilege to present this guest post by by Phillippe Diederich, author of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, a young adult novel published by Cinco Puntos Press. This is part of an ongoing blog tour celebrating the release of Playing for the Devil’s Fire. Stayed tuned afterward for the giveaway news.

25330167   phillippediedrichbyselinaroman

I write from the heart. I fall in love with my characters and try and help them navigate the conflicts they encounter. I do not shy away from subject matter, whether it’s poverty, drugs, war or crime because this is reality. And I have something to say about it. That’s why I write.

The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 14 years, but we don’t experience it the way Afghans do. Imagine having attacks like 9/11 happening every day in different parts of our country, year after year after year. That’s the reality of war.

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It’s the same with crime and drugs and poverty. In Mexico, the drug war has killed more than 100 thousand people in a little more than a decade. Most of the weapons used in this so-called war come from the U.S. And the market for the drugs is the U.S. Whether we like it or not, we are complicit in this war. And yet what we see and hear in the news is statistics, glorified prison escapes, arrests, and major drug busts. We never hear about the individuals who are suffering the consequences of government policies. We never hear about the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who fight and suffer just to survive another day.

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In my novel, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I wanted to address the problems in Mexico, more specifically, the violence and impunity that happens every day. When I wrote the story, I had to make it as real as I could without going overboard. I did not want to place the narcos as simple bad guys, but as individuals who have families just like their victims. I also didn’t want to glorify them or the violence or create unrealistic scenarios, because I would be doing a disservice to the victims of the violence many Mexicans are living every day.

I don’t believe writers should self-censor, and I don’t think we should hold back when trying to write for teens. I think teens are much smarter than we give them credit for. We shouldn’t sanitize the stories we want to tell.

When I was in the seventh grade I read an incredibly powerful memoir by and African-American. I want to say it was Nigger by Dick Gregory, but I’m not sure. It was a shocking book that dealt with a lot of tough issues. But it showed me a world I knew nothing about. It also showed me the power of the written word. I won’t say that book changed my life, but it did open my eyes to reality in a way no other media did.

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But I must make it clear that I don’t write to shock. I don’t think Playing for the Devil’s Fire is shocking in a gratuitous way. But I do think the reality that Boli, the main character, is living through is as real as what many Mexicans are experiencing. As a matter of fact, I think the horror of the victims of the drug war are going through—especially the people on the sidelines—is much worse.

When I first set out to write Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I had been reading a lot about the drug war and what was happening in Mexico. I love Mexico. I grew up there. So I was truly heartbroken as I lay down that first draft. I wanted to put a face to the statistics. I didn’t think of my audience for the book. Instead, I left it all to Boli. He guided me. Everything I wrote, I got from him—I saw it through his eyes. I was just hitting the keys on the typewriter.

If you read the book, you will find something to like in many of the characters, even in Zopilote and Ximena and Chato and Pepino. They’re only trying to survive as best they can. People are generally good, but greed and the glorification of violence on TV and popular culture can seduce even the best people.

Everything that happens in Playing for the Devil’s Fire, especially the end, it is not easy. But life is not easy.

I can only write about the reality that I know, the one that tugs at my heart. It’s not that I want people to feel the pain I feel, or about being sentimental. I just want people to join me in condemning the horror that is taking place all around us. If this is not the task of a writer, then what is?

Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Mexico City and Miami. He is the author of Sofrito and Playing for the Devil’s Fire. He lives in Florida with his wife and three teenage children and their neurotic dog, Toby. Whenever he’s not writing, Diederich is helping with homework, cooking dinner, or fixing the plumbing in the house.

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One of you will win a copy of Playing for the Devil’s Fire simply by commenting below. Winner to be announced on September 19.

Next up on the Blog Tour: Check out an excerpt, review, and guest post at Mom Read It—https://momreadit.wordpress.com on September 13.

Author photo by Selina Roman. Book covers from Goodreads. Mexico map from ezilon.com. Dick Gregory photo from Wikipedia. War quote from geckandfly.com.

Wall-to-Wall People

IMG_3542Admit it. You tuned in to see who won a copy of Louise Hawes’s young adult novel, The Language of Stars. (The interview with Louise can be found here.) Well, I’ll get to that right after this.

The last five days have been wall-to-wall people days, starting on Wednesday with my weekly train ride into what’s known as the Loop in the city of Chicago. I left a crowded train station with thousands of people and blended into the well over half a million people headed to work or school.

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I pass by this sculpture every week. If you want more information about it, click here.

On Thursday, a friend and I headed into a crowded mall for a quick merchandise return, then into a crowded theater to watch Star Trek Beyond.

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The weekend featured activities that fit the full spectrum life, starting with a funeral in a crowded chapel one day, and a baby shower the next. (I ducked out of the baby shower, due to feeling under the weather.) In between those events were a dinner at a crowded restaurant with a family of friends and a lawn/garage party with another crowd of people. (Almost 200 people were invited.)

Getting back to Chicago, I realize the difference between what seems “crowded” in Chicago, versus “crowded” in New York City, or “crowded” in Shanghai, having been to all three places. Though I grew up in Chicago, I felt dwarfed by the sheer mass of people on the streets in New York and Shanghai.

But walking through the Loop each week, I can’t help noticing the diversity of the crowds. Now, I realize the word diversity gets some people’s hackles up for various reasons. Some see the outcry for diversity in literature or other media as an attempt to shoehorn people of various ethnicities into stories, as if staffing a meeting at the UN. Others see it as a challenge they can’t surmount, and resent being told what they “need” to add in their stories, particularly ethnic or gender perspectives they know next to nothing about or may not want to know anything about. Still others might want to add the perspectives of people different from them, but fear insulting those cultures by the use of careless, uninformed language. I understand the latter desire all too well, since I struggled with that issue in my WIP.

Walking in an area with wall-to-wall people helps me see what diversity looks like on a daily basis. It’s not tokenism, but rather, a natural occurrence. The crowd is what it is. But I live near a city that is a melting pot. I’ve walked the streets of other cities or towns with a very different ethnic profile—one that is homogeneous, rather than diverse.

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I can’t pretend I know “all about” the perspective of someone who is different from me—even if I have  a diverse group of friends. But I know my own perspective in a diverse world, and can address my observations. And I can keep asking questions to get to know people who are different from me.

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What are your thoughts about diversity in literature, the movies, or elsewhere? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of The Language of Stars.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congrats, Lyn! And thank you to all who commented!

Star Trek Beyond poster from ign.com. South Park image from nakanoasam118.wordpress.com. Photos of the My Mini MixieQ’s figures and the Calder stabile by L. Marie.