Check This Out: The Edge of Anything

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.

  

Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.

 

El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.

Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.

El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?

El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.

El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.

El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!

Looking for Nora? Click below:

            .

Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.

 

In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.

The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Deck the Halls for 2019

Back when I was in grad school (VCFA), each new class had the assignment of choosing a class name. Usually these names had something to do with books or writing. My class chose the Secret Gardeners based on the book The Secret Garden.

With that being said, this is the second of two holiday season book giveaways (the first described in this post), this time featuring three more awesome Secret Gardener classmates: Laurie Morrison, Laura Sibson, and Nicole Valentine, all of whom stopped by for a brief chat today. Though they appeared on the blog here, here, and here to discuss their novels, and copies were given away before, another copy of each book will be given away this time. ’Tis the season!

 

 

   

Click here for the synopsis for Up for Air.
Click here for the synopsis for The Art of Breaking Things.
Click here for the synopsis for A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.

El Space: What’s the best Christmas gift you received when you were a kid? Why was it special for you?

Laurie: The best Christmas gift I ever got was kittens! When I was eight or nine, my parents brought home two tiny, adorable kittens. My brothers and I were completely surprised. We had no idea our parents were even considering getting pets even though we had asked. We loved figuring out names for them—we went with Christmas and Mistletoe and called them Chrissy and Missy for short—and holding them. One of them disappeared on Christmas Day, and it turned out she was hiding in a tiny space between a piece of furniture and the wall. So that was an adventure! But it was just such a joy to have such a surprise and to feel grown up and responsible as I helped take care of them.

Laura: I have a photo from my sixth Christmas. In it, I am seated on a brand new bike while wearing a fancy bathrobe fit for a princess. I also have a huge grin on my face. This Christmas photo perfectly captures the two sides of me—the girl excited for her first two-wheel bike and the girl who daydreamed about magic and medieval kingdoms.

Nicole: I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but there was one Christmas where my best friend and I thought it would be excellent fun to sneak around our houses and find the hidden presents before the big day. And it was fun! It was the closest thing to a real live treasure hunt a kid could have in 1980-something. However, it soon became painfully obvious to us both that when Christmas morning came we wouldn’t be surprised. I stayed silent and told my parents nothing, but with each passing day I became more disappointed in myself. And then, on Christmas morning there was one extra present under the tree that I had not seen before. It was a small child’s sewing kit and it wasn’t something that I had even asked for, but right then it seemed like the greatest gift in the whole world. The tag said To Nicole, Love Santa in some very familiar cursive handwriting. I still don’t know if my mother saw the telltale signs of our snooping, but I am forever thankful for that sewing kit.

Thank you, Laurie, Laura, and Nicole for stopping by!

What’s the best gift (holiday or otherwise) you received when you were a kid? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. There will be three winners for this giveaway. Each winner will receive one of the above books. Winners of both giveaways to be announced on December 20, 2019.

Henry is pleased with his tree decorating. But the snowman, who is a stickler for correct spelling, thinks an adjustment needs to be made.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photos and covers courtesy of the authors. The Secret Garden cover from Goodreads. Fairy tale castle from clipartpanda. Kittens from the SF SPCA. Sewing kit from dreamstime. Other photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Love, God, and Mexican Pastries

With me on the blog today, for the first of two holiday giveaways (’tis the season) is one of my Secret Gardener VCFA classmates, the wonderful Karen Ripley. Karen is here to talk about her recently released young adult novel, Love, God, and Mexican Pastries, a Gallina Roja publication. You can find the synopsis here.

   

One of you will get a copy of Karen’s book. But we’ll discuss that later. Let’s talk to Karen!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Karen: (1) I had to fill the Santa cookie jar with old, leftover Halloween candy because I ate all the cookies.


(2) Yesterday, I went to an exercise class with my t-shirt on inside out.
(3) My kindergarten report card says, “Karen is great at napping.”
(4) My sixteen-year-old daughter and I goof off by practicing kickboxing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this young adult novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Karen: ***BIG spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you are like me and don’t want to know the ending of a book before you read it.*** This novel is based on a very personal experience. Many years ago my young niece became pregnant and decided to place her baby for adoption. We’re good friends and I watched in awe at her faith as she courageously went through all heartbreaking steps and placed her beautiful daughter with a loving family. I asked myself over and over, how could someone make such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I ever answered that question, but this novel is me searching for that answer.

El Space: Your novel has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I’m so glad you hung in there with Melina [the main character]. How did critiques and your editor help you shape the story?
Karen: When I started writing, I read and heard advice such as trust your reader and make sure your character is likable. I thought that along with cutting out the adverbs, I was doing all of that. But when my critique group pointed out scenes that weren’t moving the story along and my editor said my character was starting to bug her, that’s when the real revision started. It was a lot of serious work but it also made me really proud of my writing.

El Space: How did the characters change as the story developed?
Karen: Probably the biggest change for me was coming to really love my characters. Starting the book, I knew some characters were going to do some rotten things and in many of my drafts, some of the characters, maybe all of them, felt more caricature-like than real. It wasn’t until I got to know their back story completely that I could understand them and I saw them develop. Recently, my daughter was reading my book, and said, “I’m so furious at Marcus right now.” And my first thoughts were, He’s really a good guy who’s just messed up.

El Space: What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Karen: Probably the biggest challenge was and is overcoming my own doubts and fears. I started this novel over a decade ago. I’ve needed to learn a lot about writing and it’s taken a long time. It’s so easy to doubt your abilities when it takes years and years to get a novel out. I put the manuscript aside for a solid year and worked on another novel after a very painful face-to-face rejection with an agent. Looking back, a year off was exactly what I needed to be able to come to the story with new eyes; but I really struggled with feeling like a failure.

El Space: How did you select the title?
Karen: Ha! 😄 Really, it was like the whole writing process, trial and error, critiquing, revision. I tried lots of cheesy titles such as: Love Story and The Right Forever. After bunches of cheese, I threw out Love, God, and Mexican Pastries almost as a joke. My daughter really liked it, my editor loved it, and that’s how it came to be.

El Space: Who designed the cover? How did you feel about it when you first saw it?
Karen: Shawnda Craig was the cover designer, and she’s amazing. As an indie author it’s different than traditional publishing where you usually don’t get to consult with the cover designer, but Shawnda and I chatted about different concepts and went through several drafts. When she sent me two covers I loved, it felt like seeing the first snowfall of the year.

El Space: What are you hoping teens or other readers will take away after reading your novel?
Karen: I’d love readers to finish the book with a feeling of hope and a joy in family.

El Space: What books have inspired you lately?
Karen: I’m reading about book marketing lately. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear has a lot of great advice for indie authors. I enjoy reading to my grandson, though he’s 18 months and only sits still for a couple of pages. I love reading Long Ago, on a Silent Night by Julie Berry to him. And every night I try to read something beautiful, and lately it’s been The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Karen: I’ve got a middle-grade story about a spunky girl who goes to battle with her bus driver. Another middle-grade story about a young cowboy who competes in the rodeo is in a rough-draft state. Also, I’ve done a little free writing on another YA novel but so far that’s just mush.

Thanks, Karen, for being my guest!

Looking for Karen? You can find her here. Looking for Love, God, and Mexican Pastries? (Or all three in a different context?) Click here.

One of you will be sent a copy of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries simply because you commented. Winner to be announced after next week’s giveaway.

Katie insists that you read this book, because it’s the best book ever and you should also feel that way, ’cause she is always real with people and that’s how she feels.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photo by Sara Brewer. Love, God, and Mexican Pastries cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Santa cookie jar from ebay. Kickboxing image from clipart-library. Failure sign from teachertoolkit.me. Other photo by L. Marie. Katie is one of the Capsule Chix, a product of Moose Toys.

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: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awe-inspiring Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her debut young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things. Laura is the first of two awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA on the blog this week.

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

Laura is represented by Brianne Johnson. The Art of Breaking Things was published by Viking/Penguin on June 18. Click here to read the synopsis. After I talk with Laura, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of this very book.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• When I was sorted as a Gryffindor on Pottermore, I was both surprised and slightly dismayed. I expected to be Hufflepuff, but also it seems to me that Gryffindor has fallen out of favor of late. When I asked my sons if I should take it again, they were like: “Mom, you’re a total Gryffindor.”

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

• I love flowers and plants, but I murder every plant that has been brought into my house, except one. I have a peace lily that was given to us after my mother-in-law died and I have kept that plant alive come hell or high water.
• When weather permits, I work at my laptop on my back deck. At the moment, I feel a slight breeze despite the heat. I hear different birds singing their morning tunes. And I see that the big old hydrangea tree in my line of vision is readying itself to bloom.
• While The Art of Breaking Things is my first novel to be published, it’s the third manuscript that I completed. It took ten years from finishing my first manuscript to the publication of this book.

El Space: The Art of Breaking Things is partially based on your own experience. How challenging was it to separate what happened to your main character, Skye, with your own experiences?
Laura: Early on, someone had advised me to write the truth first and then set it aside. When I was ready, I started to fictionalize the story. I was interested in exploring what could happen in a small family of three females if an abusive father figure re-entered their world. I was intent on writing an active—not a passive—main character. As soon as Skye appeared, I knew she could carry the story in the way that I hoped. She was fierce and passionate. Through her voice, I was able to keep my personal story separate from the novel I was crafting.

Laura with Cordelia Jensen, another of our awesome classmates who has been on the blog (click here and here).

El Space: How did the supporting characters change as the story developed?
Laura: Initially, Emma, Skye’s sister, read as way too young. Luisa, Skye’s best friend, was more critical of Skye hooking up and their friendship was fairly shallow. Ben, Skye’s best guy friend—and maybe more?—sort of existed just for Skye’s benefit and Keith, a guy they go to school with, was an obnoxious jerk. Through revision, I worked to learn more about those characters, ensuring that they had lives outside of Skye’s life. Revising those characters made the overall story deeper and allowed me to create more nuance.

El Space: You were interviewed for an article on the #MeToo movement for Publishers Weekly. [Click here for that article.] But you wrote this book before that movement started. How has being linked to the movement been a game changer?
Laura: I started drafting the book in 2014. By the time I queried the agent who said yes, the #MeToo movement had broken and my agent saw a way to pitch my book. She was right because she sold the book in six weeks! When I started drafting the book, it was just for me. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to read the difficult story of a teen girl struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault. But #MeToo has helped us remove some of the stigma around discussing these experiences. I’m grateful to the movement because it’s also helped me let go of some of my own shame.

At HEAD HOUSE BOOKS in Philadelphia with fellow debut author ALEX VILLASANTE

El Space: How important is the premise when it comes to novel writing?
Laura: For me, the basic premise helps frame the overall story. Though I am not a plotter—I wish I was, believe me!—I do like keeping the overall premise in the forefront of my mind as I draft. For The Art of Breaking Things, I knew that I wanted to explore how a teen attempts to protect her younger sister when she can’t speak up about past abuse, and I wanted to place a party girl in the limelight. Many plot points around that premise changed during drafting and revision, but the basic concept remained the same from the very beginning.

   

THE CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE in Baltimore (left); Laura with her niece

El Space: Based on Skye’s journey and your own, what would you want a teen or anyone else who has gone through trauma to come away with?
Laura: I want readers to see that we aren’t good girls or bad girls, we are all just girls. I hope that young survivors feel seen and that they can begin the journey toward letting go of shame. I hope that people see that there can be healthy relationships after trauma and that there are resources to help you with the process of healing. But I also hope that people experience The Art of Breaking Things simply as a good read.

     

Laura at ALA (left); Laura and Alex with Katie Locke at B & N NESHAMINY

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Laura: Being in nature inspires me. Scenes often unfold for me as I’m walking in the woods. I can see them clearly and then I can’t wait to return home to write them down. I also find that I can untangle plot problems while walking my dog on the two-mile loop that we do most days. I read a lot, so I’ll also get inspired by the ways that authors bring their own stories to life. While I’m actually drafting, a hot cup of coffee doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but it helps keep me in my seat. 😄

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laura: I’m working on a new YA novel—a grief narrative that explores family relationships and the ways that we try to keep memories alive. The main character is living on a houseboat with her grandmother in southern Maryland and she’s being visited by the ghost of her mother who died less than a year earlier. In this story I’m particularly interested in the lies we tell ourselves about the people we love and ways that the loss of a parent can affect the way that a teen moves through her world.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Instagram.

Looking for The Art of Breaking Things? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

But one of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed after an interview that I will do with another great classmate later this week.

The first meeting of the book club went well. Though Royal Bee and Neon agreed That The Art of Breaking Things was the ideal first book to read, they argued about who would be more compatible with Ben.

Book cover, book signing photos, and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Mentors

Do you have a mentor? Many people talk about the need for one in fiction and in real life. Before I ever had one, I remember having an idealistic view of what having a mentor would involve—someone who offered sage advice and remained in your life for years. But my experiences with mentors have been mostly brief.

In fiction, the mentor is one of the archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey breakdown, which was popularized by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. The mentor has one job:

The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to accept the adventure.

(The above quote came from this site. I have Vogler’s book, but can’t find it right now. This photo of the book is one I took awhile ago and had in my WordPress library of photos.)

In real life, the mentor has a similar task. As an undergraduate, I had a professor whom I thought of as a mentor: Leon Forrest, who also was a literary novelist, which gave him serious street cred in my book. I wanted to be just like him. But as is the case with many mentors in a hero’s journey story, he died at the start of my writer’s journey. 😢

After that, I had some growing up to do as a writer. As you know, part of the growing up process involves figuring out who you are and who you’re not. After my days as an English lit/writing major, I quickly learned that the literary track—the one paved with GANs (Great American Novels) for adults—was not for me. Instead, I gravitated toward writing for children and young adults. Ironic, huh, that by growing up I would discover a commitment to writing for kids.

In my grad program, which was chosen after I came to the realization of where I belong, I was given four advisors—four mentors if you will. (They’re all still alive by the way. I’m sure they’re relieved on that score. Thankfully, many mentors live.) But each was given only a six-month stretch to help me on the journey to graduation (though I tried to cling to them all after graduation). While in the program, I also had a student mentor—someone who had been in the program for a while and could help me navigate the journey. But she graduated soon after I arrived at the school.

Today I am seemingly mentorless. Seemingly, because I realize I have a Mentor, one whom I meet every day in prayer. He’d been there all along, even in the days when I yearned for significance as a GAN (Great American Novelist).

The fact that I have been mentored gave me the desire to be a mentor to some young writers. Though some preferred only a brief stint as my mentee, I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a mentor, however briefly. And I never once called anyone Padawan.

If you’re not currently a mentor or are without one, do you think you’d like to be one or at least have one? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of War of Nytefall: Rivalry by Charles Yallowitz, which this post discusses.

 

That winner, according to the random.org generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congratulations, Lyn! Comment below to confirm.

Henry is torn between two possible mentors: the ever exciting Malik or the always chill Olive. My advice? When in doubt, have ice cream.

Frog-shaped mint ice cream is the best!

Divine Days book cover from Amazon. War of Nytefall: Rivalry book cover and author photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Mentor memes from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

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.

Guest Post: Katia Raina

Please welcome to the blog the awe-inspiring Katia Raina, who is here to talk about her young adult novel! Take it away, Katia!

I find myself at a thrilling turn of my life’s journey. Today, I am the debut author of Castle of Concrete, a young adult romance set in 1990s Russia, coming this June from Young Europe Books. Once a relentless journalist, now a goofy middle school English teacher, always a stubborn early morning writer, I am excited to share a bit of my story with you here on L. Marie’s blog.

My story starts across the ocean in a small Ukrainian city, then Siberia, then Moscow, Russia.

On the outside, I was a quiet Russian girl (photo at left), a shy one, an odd one. On the inside, I was Jewish, and proud, even though I knew early on it was not a thing to advertise. I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with dream worlds of romance, science fiction and fairy tales.

 

No matter the genre, it was easy to identify with outcasts and outsiders. I wondered what separated some people from others. I wondered why people did that—allowed some to belong, while pushing others away.

My story starts with lots of loneliness—lots of quiet, lots of missing of my dear mama, who was struggling to put her life together far away from me—as my grandmother did her best to raise me. Looking back, I recognize the quiet wasn’t always filled with loneliness. The quiet in which I grew up gave me the chance to look closely at the world and take note. It gave me lots and lots of space in which to dream and to wonder. Though I didn’t know it then, it seems so obvious now—it was this quiet that formed the writer I would become.

While I was growing up, my country, then called the Soviet Union, was crumbling under the Communist rule. Lots of resentment building, ready to burst out. Because my grandfather had left the country for the shiny America, we were considered to be in many ways a “traitor’s family.” This made things even harder for my mother, an aspiring journalist trying to get into a good university or land a solid job. Being Jewish didn’t help either.

I emigrated to the United States with my family just before I turned 16. That was when I knew I found my home at last, in this land of diversity and variety. As I grew up, became a journalist and started a family of my own, the memories and questions of childhood and adolescence rose back to the surface, and I began writing a romance novel about a shy Jewish girl in the last year of the collapsing Soviet Union, reuniting with her long-absent dissident mother and falling in love with a boy who may be an anti-Semite.

I didn’t set out to write historical fiction. I didn’t necessarily make a conscious decision to become an author for young adults, either. I just wrote the story that had been bursting to come out. Even so, it took me 15 years to get this story just right. Now I am overjoyed to share it with the world.

Many ask if Sonya Solovay, the protagonist of Castle of Concrete, is based on me, and if the story I wrote is based on real events of my childhood. It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. While this story came onto the page straight from my soul, and while Sonya and I definitely have a lot in common, this story is fiction—bits of memory and reality intertwined so tightly with fancy and imagination, that at this point for me, it’s kind of impossible to tell the two apart. One thing about this story that is very real though, is my struggle as a teen to find my strength and my voice, and to learn to embrace all parts of me, including ones I understood so little about, such as my Jewish roots.

This is why I wrote Castle of Concrete, and this is what I hope readers take away from it. The inspiration to learn about the heritage and history that make them who they are. The courage to make their journey their own.

Castle of Concrete Synopsis: Set in the final year of Soviet Russia’s collapse, this stunning debut novel tells the story of Sonya, a timid Jewish girl reuniting with her once-dissident mother and falling in love with a mysterious muddy-eyed boy who may be an anti-Semite. All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also⎯with shiny America, a land where differences seem to be celebrated. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?

Bio
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. She emigrated from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic.

L. Marie here. I’ll be giving away a preorder of Castle of Concrete. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on February 25.

Looking for Katia? You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, her blog (The Magic Mirror), and Goodreads.

Author, childhood photo, and book cover courtesy of Katia Raina. Map from maps.nationmaster.com. . Russian fairy tale images, including the Palekh miniature, are from rbth.com and russian-crafts.com.

Cover Reveal: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awesome Laura Sibson, who is here for the cover release of her contemporary young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things, which will be published by Viking.

First, loooooooooook! Take it in! Breathe in the beauty!

Here’s the synopsis:

In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr, The Art of Breaking Things embraces the power of a single voice.

Skye has her sights set on partying her way through high school and then escaping to art school and not looking back.

But her party-first-ask-questions-later lifestyle starts to crumble when her mom rekindles her romance with the man who betrayed Skye’s trust and boundaries when he was supposed to be protecting her. She was too young to understand what was happening at the time, but now she doesn’t know whether to run as far away from him as possible or give up her dreams to save her little sister. The only problem is that no one knows what he did to her. How can she reveal the secret she’s guarded for so long? With the help of her best friend and the only boy she’s ever trusted, Skye might just find the courage she needs to let her art speak for her when she’s out of words.

Now, let’s talk to Laura!

El Space: For quick facts about yourself?
Laura: (1) I was raised in Maryland but moved to Pennsylvania for college and have lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my adult life. I love the Northeast, but I also love to travel. This past summer, my family took a trip to England and Scotland and we kayaked on Loch Ness! No sightings of Nessie, I’m sorry to say.
(2) I love being in nature. In fact, I have trouble settling down to write if I haven’t first gone for a run or taken my dog for a walk in the woods.
(3) I had a whole career in higher education before I started writing. I didn’t start writing until I was in my early 40s!
(4) I live in a 130-year-old stone Victorian house in an area of Philadelphia that reminds me of Hogsmeade. In fact, we had a popular and super-fun Harry Potter festival here until Warner Bros. sent a cease and desist letter. There is still a festival, but it’s not the same.

El Space: What was your path to publication?
Laura: Well, how long you got? In all seriousness, I think my path to publication is long, but aspiring novelists may want to know that my path isn’t all that unusual. As I said above, I didn’t start writing a novel until my early 40s. I had always been an avid reader and I’d wanted to write a novel, but it took a while until I finally found the courage to start.

After completing my first manuscript about two sisters who learn that they are witches and not obtaining an agent, I realized that I had a lot to learn about writing well. I attended VCFA’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults—where I met you!—and while there completed a second novel about a girl whose mom dies and then she fights her uncle to remain in her house. I didn’t obtain an agent for that one either, but I got closer! I also got discouraged. I started writing a book just for me and my writer friends like you suggested I keep at it. Fast forward and it took almost fifty queries to land the agent who offered me representation. Brianne Johnson of Writers’ House was a great champion of my story and sold it in a few months. The book, The Art of Breaking Things, comes out on June 18! All and all, it took about ten years from when I first started writing to when I’ll have a book published.

El Space: Who is the cover designer? The artist?
Laura: The cover designer is Dana Li and the illustrator is Agata Wierzbicka. Dana also designed the cover for I Am Still Alive by Kate Marshall, which has just been optioned for a movie deal! Fun fact: I Am Still Alive was edited by my editor, Maggie Rosenthal! And Agata illustrated the striking cover of Courtney Summer’s latest novel, Sadie. I love how the design team worked together to create a look that is original and so inviting!

   

El Space: What elements make this a great cover for your novel?
Laura: In the novel, Skye has difficulty speaking the truth of what has happened to her. She comes off as self-reliant and fun-loving, but she’s also deeply wounded. Agata’s illustration beautifully captures that dynamic. The triangles flying off of Skye’s jacket show the reader the idea of things breaking, especially Skye herself and also hint at Skye’s artistic background. The title, along with the charcoal smudges on the cover, further cement that artistic sensibility—and the purple background color is just swoony.

The Art of Breaking Things will debut on June 18, 2019!

Check out the cover release at PenguinTeen.com.

Look for Laura at her website.

Author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Photo attribution: Rachael Balascak. Other covers from Goodreads.

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.