Differently Creative

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. My room used to horrify my mom, who is a very neat person.

“Clean your room!” she’d tell me every once in a while, especially when guests were due to arrive. Or she’d say, “Clean that closet.” The closet was where I stowed a number of projects birthed through my imagination.

This is my desk at home.

    

Those of you who are neat might be ready to crawl up a wall at the sight of it. Heh heh. Sorry about that. Whenever I’ve worked full-time in an office—usually at a publisher or book packager—my desk was usually the messiest. Piles of books, files, and knickknacks lived on my desk. Many of my neater coworkers had that crawling-up-the wall reaction whenever they looked at my desk. But whenever a supervisor or coworker asked me for anything—a book for a quote; the address of a writer we hired for a project; whatever—I could produce it just like that.

On the day before important clients were due to visit, one of my supervisors would declare a cleanup day. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Yep? Just like Mom.) I would have to return books to the office library and dump my knickknacks in a convenient drawer—only to pull them back out when the clients left.

There’s a method to my messiness. You see, I’ve often had to work under extremely tight deadlines. Like having to produce a book in a month. All of the resources required for the project needed to be at hand. That way, I could do the job quickly, without having to get up and constantly search for whatever was needed.

As a freelancer, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects also. Which usually means stopping one project and starting another, before returning to the first project. Which also means more and more things get piled up on my desk (like the sharks I’m crocheting [see below], which are on top of my writing journal).

Another aspect to my cluttered desk is my love of color. Cheerful, colorful objects always make me feel better. Which is why I love daisies, especially Gerbera daisies.

   

A number of people have asked me over the years, “Why can’t you keep your desk neat?” My answer to them is, “Does it really have to be?”

A piled-up desk is not the image I usually see in magazine articles featuring a writer’s workspace. I usually see beautiful wooden desks with everything in its place. But what you see in this post is my space. I don’t want to pretend that it’s different from what I’ve shown here.

The bin of DVDs and blu-rays (and the occasional skein of yarn) that sits next to my desk

I don’t think of myself as more or less creative than someone with a pristine desk. I think of myself as “differently creative.”

How about you? What does your creative space look like? Is it messy? Neat? In between?

Photos by L. Marie with the exception of the gerbera daisy image, which came from freeimages.com, and the Tyra Banks finger snap gif, which came from pic2fly.com.

Resilience

I’ve mentioned before on this blog (right here, actually) that a stray orange tabby has taken up residence in the bike shed of my apartment building—a no-pet building. Not that I have anything against pets. I live here, because it’s cheaper to live here. I don’t have a pet anyway. Well, not officially. The orange tabby, whom I’ve nicknamed Feral, is my unofficial pet. I share him with my next-door neighbors who also feed Feral.

I assure you, a cat is in this photo. This is from the previous post. Feral is not fond of having his picture taken.

Feral prefers tuna, but not the cheap kind you can get at a discount store like Aldi. His palate is much more highbrow. Albacore tuna, please. In water.

Late last fall, my neighbor built Feral a little house out of a cardboard box, and lined it with straw. This house fit snuggly at the back of the bike shed. Feral seemed to like it. During the cold winter days, particularly the below zero days, I felt better, knowing Feral was out of the chill wind.

Anyway, last week, I went out to feed Feral, only to discover that his house had been thrown away. The bowl I used for his food had been placed on the sidewalk.

Feral had been evicted.

As I mentioned, I live in a no-pet building. Someone might have informed the powers that be of our secret pet (though technically, he’s not in the building; he’s in the bike shed).

Two days later, I peeked in the bike shed, only to discover Feral curled up behind the bikes once more. Despite the loss of his box, he’d returned to the only place he seemed to call home. So that night, I left a bowl of food and some fresh water, only to discover the next day that the food bowl was missing, and Feral too.

He’d been evicted. Again.

I thought he was gone for good. Nope. He turned up on a day when rain fell like the proverbial cats and dogs.

At the back of the apartment building is a window with a view into the attached bike shed. I could see Feral in there, sitting nicely, waiting for me to bring a bowl of food.

Feral is the picture of resilience for me. He survived being dumped in this area by someone who didn’t want him. He’s made it through a number of winters. Sometimes he comes to the shed bearing scars earned from fights. He won’t let anyone come near him to take him to the vet. He runs away and stays away if you try to pet him. All he wants is food and water. But sometimes, when I stand at the window and look in, he meets my gaze. Just that little bit of contact—knowing I’m nearby, though behind glass—seems to be enough.

Tuna from bumblebee.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Still Beckoning the Lovely

My continuing quest to beckon the lovely took me to the gym of a church this past Saturday, where I helped organize the games for a five-year-old’s birthday party. (If you have no idea what beckoning the lovely means, click here for the post that provides more information.) Picture twenty-one shrieking kids eight years old and under (most around four years old or five years old), racing at top speed across a gym—sometimes colliding with each other—and you’ll know what my day was like.

    

   

Sorry. I’m just showing photos of decorations. No one gave me permission to show his or her kids on this blog.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I are close like that. You’re thinking, How is being in a room with twenty-one children lovely?

Well, I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I can’t have biological children. But I appreciate the miracle that is a child.

That doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view of children. I know kids can be cruel to each other. After all, I was not a nice child. I remember how a friend of mine and I made up a mean song about a girl named Jennifer, whom we didn’t like for some reason. We sang it with gusto in her presence. See? Not a nice kid.

Plus, I’ve been around kids all of my life in some capacity or another. I’m related to some, I’ve taught others, babysat them, scolded them, and planned parties for them. Their sense of wonder and their skill at getting on your last nerve are what inspire me to write books for and about them.

So, helping out at that party, as tiring as it was, is what I would describe as lovely. Seeing how much fun the kids had, as well as the dads who courageously allowed groups of small children not necessarily their own to dress them as jellyfish, reminds me of the creative ways adults can be present in the lives of children.

Speaking of present, that’s my cue to segue to the winner of Second Chance Romance, a novel written by your friend and mine, Jill Weatherholt. Jill is giving away a signed copy as a present to a commenter. (See what I did there with present? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

  

The winner is . . .

Is

Is

Is

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Laura, please comment below to confirm. I will then pass along your email address to Jill. Thank you to all who commented!

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.

Beckon the Lovely

Not long ago, my friend Sharon emailed a link to a TED Talk by author/filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal (see below). You might know this author either from her books (see above) or from her very popular and very heartbreaking New York Times article, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” (The answer to that is, yes.)

If you have twenty-one minutes to kill, take a look. I highly recommend it. But in case you don’t, I’ll give you the upshot of the video in seven words:

Make the most of your time here.

That was Rosenthal’s motto. Was, because the author recently died from ovarian cancer, which made the video all the more poignant for me. Though this talk was given years ago, I found it very fitting today.

One of the pieces of advice she gives in the video is to “beckon the lovely.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear ugly words, or discover that someone lovely died from an ugly disease, or I hear about the ugly actions of others, my soul craves something lovely.

[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I think of flowers and sunsets and clingy baby pandas. My friend Jill emailed this article, which features a video of a clingy baby panda. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. There is a reason why this video has over 160 million views. Lovely sights beckon to us.

Like flowers. Flowers of any sort catch my eye.

   

Photos from a couple of years ago and recently (last photo). Alas, a recent snowstorm killed these sprouts off.

Crocheting also is a way I beckon the lovely. I promised Marie of 1WriteWay that I would post a photo of a jellyfish I crocheted recently for a little boy’s birthday party, thanks to this pattern. I can’t help but smile that the designer chose to make something lovely and cuddly based on the form of a creature with a harmful sting.

When I consider ways to beckon the lovely, I’m reminded of lovely gestures people make. Last week, a colleague came bearing two boxes of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, which brightened our day.

Speaking of gestures, the lovely Jill Weatherholt is giving away a signed copy of her debut novel, Second Chance Romance. (U.S. only. Sorry.) All you have to do to be considered for the drawing is to comment below. What have you seen recently that you consider lovely? Perhaps you were the one whose lovely gesture made someone’s day. Do tell! Or describe what you plan to do to beckon the lovely this week. The winner will be announced on March 27.

     

Amy Krouse Rosenthal book cover from Goodreads. Second Chance Romance cover from Jill Weatherholt. Dunkin Donuts Munkins from Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.

Make ’Em Feel Something

A book I’ve been slowly going through these days is a writer’s craft book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you know anything about Donald Maass, you know that he’s a literary agent who has read thousands of manuscripts. He’s also written other craft books.

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Over the years I also have reviewed for publishers and other venues more manuscripts than I can count. But sometimes I found myself puzzling over why a manuscript didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Maass’s book gave me insight with this quote:

When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. (Maass 4)

Many times, I did not feel anything while reading a manuscript. Even stellar writing, Maass mentions, can be a turnoff if a reader does not feel anything while reading a story. So the point of Maass’s book is to help writers create the kind of stories that cause readers to experience the journey—not just read about it. In other words, the kind of stories that make readers feel something.

Part of that experience is fostered through helping to immerse a reader in a character’s emotional journey. Have you ever had a hard time writing an emotional scene? I have. Usually while drafting, I only scratch the surface, especially if a character feels a complex array of emotions. Consider how you felt on an extremely emotional day.

emotions

So, writing emotional content does not come naturally to me. But Maass cautioned

While it’s fine to fill pages with what is natural and easy for you, it’s also critical to get comfortable writing what isn’t natural and easy. (74)

I want to get better at writing emotional scenes. This means I might have to rewrite a scene over and over until I break through the wall of resistance within myself.

Something else that inspired me to get better at writing emotional content is a quote from another book I’m reading. In one of the forewords to The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie, written by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, director Chris McKay and producers Dan Lin, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller wrote

When assembling these [LEGO] movies from the beginning, we always start with an emotional question to explore over the course of the story.

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They actually asked more than one question to shape their main character’s emotional arc. One of these questions was a what-if question. (I won’t share those questions, since doing so would involve a spoiler.) Sure, the filmmakers want to entertain people with their production. But also they want people to feel what the character feels along the way. This inspires me to carefully consider the what-if questions that are the basis for my character’s emotional journey.

the-lego-batman-movie-2017

How do you feel when you have to write scenes with high emotional content? Is it easy for you? Hard? If the latter, what do you do to press onward?

If you don’t write stories, consider the last book you read that really moved you. Why do you think it did?

Maass, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Miller-Zarneke, Tracey. The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie. New York: DK/Penguin-Random House, 2017.

The LEGO® Batman Movie poster from xemeston.ir. Emotions image from taringa.net.