Check This Out: Up for Air

Hi ya! (See what I did there? Yes, I laugh at my own bad puns. If you’re still wondering what on earth I mean, think higher. Get it? Air? Higher? Okay, I’ll stop.) My guest is nudging me to focus, so, with me on the blog today is none other than the amazing Laurie Morrison. She’s been here before to discuss her debut MG novel, Every Shiny Thing, written with the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Click here for that post. Today, Laurie’s here to talk about her solo flight, Up for Air, published by Abrams on May 7.

   

Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Stick around to the end to learn of a giveaway for Up for Air and to find out who won the $25 Amazon card I announced in this post. Now, let’s talk to Laurie!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: I’m very sensitive to loud noises and scared of fire, so I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. I love sweets and love coffee but hate sweet coffee. I used to wish I had straight hair and a name that ended in an “a,” but now I like my hair and my name a lot. I always loved to read but didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until my mid-twenties.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Up for Air, Laurie! [Click here and scroll down for those.] Please tell us how this book came to be.
Laurie: Thank you! Up for Air spun off from a YA novel I was working on when you and I got to know each other at VCFA, Linda. Annabelle from Up for Air was the younger stepsister of the main character in that book, a sixteen-year-old girl named Lissy. I still love that book, which was called Rebound, but unfortunately it never sold. However, right around the time when I was realizing that book might not sell, my then-seventh-grade student read it and told me she loved Annabelle and wanted me to write Annabelle’s story next. I loved Annabelle, too, and I had taught some other students who were excellent athletes and ended up playing on sports teams with older teens. I thought that dynamic, of a tween on a team with older teens, would be interesting to explore, and I loved the idea that I could use the setting and some of the characters from Rebound. It took me a little while to commit to writing Up for Air because I was afraid it would be seen as too mature for middle grade but too young for young adult and therefore wouldn’t be marketable, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.

Laurie talks with her Every Shiny Things co-author, Cordelia Jensen. Photo taken at the Up for Air book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford

El Space: Annabelle’s story is such a rich conglomeration of angst, joy, family, friendships, crushes, and summer fun.  Who, if anyone, was the inspiration for Annabelle?
Laurie: I’m so glad you thought so! Originally, I created Annabelle as a character who would really push my old main character Lissy’s buttons,  so I guess Lissy was the main inspiration. Annabelle’s stepdad, Mitch, is Lissy’s father, and while Annabelle and Mitch have a great relationship, Lissy and Mitch had a pretty tense one. I tried to build Annabelle up as a kid who would seem to Lissy like the daughter her dad had always wanted.

El Space: Honestly, your book was painful to read at times because it is so true to life. What were the challenges for you in the writing of this book?
Laurie: I struggle with perfectionism, and I tend to feel a whole lot of shame when I think I have done things wrong. As I wrote this book, I really wanted to explore those feelings of shame and vulnerability because of “messing up,” so I channeled some painful and embarrassing experiences I’d had as a kid and as an adult. Annabelle’s experiences are very different from mine, but her feelings are the same. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find the book emotionally difficult to write. It was actually very cathartic.

Cookies served at the Up for Air book launch were made by Frosted Fox Bakery.

El Space: You taught middle school. What do you think your students would say about Annabelle’s journey? What do you want your readers to take away concerning girl power?
Laurie: I think 6th-8th graders like the ones I taught would say they are happy that Annabelle’s story delves into some things they don’t often get to read about in middle grade books—things like the social pressures that can come along with being friends with older teens, and the way it feels to get a certain kind of attention as your body develops. I want readers to see that girls can be competitive, yes, and Annabelle has a very competitive friendship, but girls also lift each other up and share their experiences in a very open and deep way, making each other feel less alone.

El Space: The swim team aspects were so realistic. Were you on the swim team at school? How did you bring them to life so vividly?
Laurie: Thank you! I was an athlete, but my big sport was soccer. I do know how to swim and love to do laps for exercise, though I haven’t done that for a while, and I also love to watch swimming during the Olympics! I drew upon my minimal knowledge of swimming and my more substantial understanding of what it’s like to be serious about a sport, and then I did a bit of research and relied on three readers who are swimming experts: my friend and critique partner, Laura Sibson, and two of my former students. All three of them helped me make the swimming elements more vivid and authentic.

El Space: Your book is considered upper middle grade. I remember reading Shug by Jenny Han years ago and thinking it was upper middle grade. What are the differences between middle grade and upper middle grade?
Laurie: Oh, I loved Shug! And that’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear consensus on what the criteria are or which books are middle grade and which are upper middle grade. I could say that upper middle grade books are designated by the publisher as age 10-14 versus age 8-12, and that is sometimes the case; Up for Air and Every Shiny Thing are both marketed as 10-14, and so are Melanie Sumrow’s unputdownable novels, The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle. But then one of my favorite upper middle grade books is Paula Chase’s So Done, and that one says age 8-12 on the jacket.

  

   

I guess for me, the age of the protagonist is important. When the main character is 13 (an age that I think publishers used to shy away from), that’s one indication that you’re looking at an upper middle grade novel. It’s also about the topics the author is covering and the book’s tone. So I guess it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing. If I feel like a book is geared more toward a 6th-8th grade reader than to a 3rd-5th grade reader, then I personally would call it upper MG. I’m happy to say that I think we’re starting to see more and more upper MG, and I hope that’s a trend that continues!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m working on my next book, Saint Ivy, which is due out from Abrams in spring 2021. Like my first two books, it’s a story about friendship, family, and complicated emotions, but this one also features an anonymous email and a bit of a mystery. It’s proving to be a fun challenge so far, and I’m nervous but excited to see how it comes together!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

Looking for Laurie? Click on these icons:

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Up for Up for Air? You can find it at your local bookstore and here:
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But one of you will find it in your mailbox just because you commented below. Yes, this is a giveaway, like the $25 Amazon gift card will be given away to Jill Weatherholt. See what I did there? Oh never mind. Jill, please comment below to confirm.

Everyone else, please comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week sometime!

After reading Up for Air, Henry was inspired to hug his friends regularly, including new friend, the lamb’s head.

Author photo by Laura Billingham. Cookie photo by Elizabeth Morrison. Book launch photo by Mike Fabius. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Various icons from the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Every Shiny Thing

Today on the blog, you will find not one, but two of my incredible VCFA classmates: the marvelous Cordelia Jensen (left) and the awesome Laurie Morrison. They are here to discuss their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, which was published by Abrams in April. Click here to read the novel’s synopsis.

   

Cordelia and Laurie are represented by Sara Crowe. After the interview, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of their novel.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: 1. I used to be able to hula hoop for hours on end, doing all kinds of fancy tricks. 2. I ran three marathons before hurting my knee while training for a fourth. 3. I think chocolate chip cookies are pretty much the world’s most perfect food. 4. I have a brother who can play the piano by ear, like Ryan can in Every Shiny Thing.

Cordelia: 1. I was a certified scuba diver in high school. 2. I was a camp counselor for eleven summers. 3. When I turned 39, I got my first cavity, my first dog died, and I broke my first bone. It was like I turned 9 not 39! 4. I have boy girl twins who are 12, now we all read the same books!

El Space: How did your premise—two middle graders who come up with what has been described as an ill-advised Robin Hood scheme to raise money for people in need—come about?
Laurie and Cordelia: We started with a vision for our two characters and the relationship they would form, and we thought it would be compelling if Lauren developed a compulsion to shoplift and Sierra felt like she had to cover for her. But Laurie, who wrote Lauren’s point of view, is terrified of breaking rules and couldn’t fathom why Lauren would shoplift until she thought of the middle school students she taught and how passionate many of them were about social justice. We thought: what if Lauren is angry about the inequality she sees in the world around her and wants to do something to make the world a fairer place, sort of like Robin Hood…but then she gets carried away and her well-intentioned scheme spirals out of control?

El Space: The book was written in prose and poetry. What was your process for writing? What was your favorite thing about working together?
Laurie and Cordelia: Laurie wrote Lauren’s sections in prose and Cordelia wrote Sierra’s sections in verse. We had a big brainstorming session before we began writing, during which we figured out the midpoint and ending, and once we had written a little more than half of the book, we met again to plan a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the story so it wouldn’t run away from us. But for the most part, we just went back and forth in a Google doc, one of us writing a chapter, then the other building off that chapter to write the next one, and so on. We both found the process incredibly energizing because we could bounce ideas off each other and improvise with each other as we went. And it was pretty great to get immediate feedback on the sections we wrote so we knew right away what was working and what wasn’t. And we gave each other lots of compliments as we went, which was also very fun and validating!

El Space: Talk to us about your main characters—Sierra and Lauren. How are they different than or similar to middle grade you? What advice would high school you give to Sierra and Lauren about surviving middle school? Why is this important?
Laurie: I was conscientious and loyal, like Lauren is, and I had brothers I felt somewhat protective of. I cared about injustice, but not as single-mindedly as Lauren does. And I was a rule-follower, so I never would have stolen! I think high school me would have been overwhelmed by the misguided intensity of Lauren’s Robin Hood plan. There were a couple of times when I was in high school when I really wanted to help a friend but realized I was not equipped to figure out how to do that, so I went to a trusted adult—the guidance counselor at my school—to ask for advice. High school me would have gone to the guidance counselor to work out a plan to help Lauren, and I likely would have tried to help her talk to someone she trusted, like her Aunt Jill or her teacher, Mr. Ellis. I would have advised her that there are times when things get intense and hard enough that you may need adult reinforcements and sometimes you may want to turn to adults other than your parents, and that’s just fine.

Cordelia: I was definitely a caretaker like Sierra is, which is part of the reason I wanted to write this book. I would tell Sierra (1) you are safe now, let yourself trust in your new environment and the people who are caring for you (2) if you feel overwhelmed in a relationship, seek help and support. Dare yourself to ask for help even if it feels impossible. Feeling like you are the only person who can help someone can become an addiction itself.

El Space: Social justice is a big theme in society and in your book. What do you hope kids will take away from your book?
Laurie and Cordelia: The School Library Journal review of Every Shiny Thing says the novel may encourage some readers to examine their privilege, which we were thrilled to see because we definitely like the idea that the book would make readers stop to think about things in the world that aren’t fair and things they can do—without resorting to illegal measures like Lauren does—to make a difference.

In addition, if kids are struggling with an addicted parent, we hope they will see that there are resources out there that can offer help.

El Space: Please tell us how your passion for writing books for kids developed.
Laurie: I only began writing fiction after I began teaching middle school. There was something about my students’ passion, humor, creativity, and honesty that inspired me deeply. I also went through a lot of big life changes when I was in middle school and high school, and I very vividly remember what it felt like to be that age and deal with big revelations and relationship shifts. I feel a lot of empathy for my middle school and early high school self and am moved to explore some of the intense feelings I had at those ages.

Cordelia: I have always been a writer and even concentrated in Creative Writing at Kenyon College as an undergrad. However, I began writing for kids after working with them. Besides having an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I have an M.Ed in School Counseling. I worked as a counselor in my twenties and was also a camp counselor for a long time (see fun fact). Once I became pregnant with my own kids, I was drawn to write stories and poems for the kids I had worked with for so long. I felt I had a lot more to say to kids and teens than to adults.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m finishing up edits on my next middle grade novel, Up for Air, which is a summer story about competitive swimming, self-esteem, fitting in, and standing out that will come out next spring, and I’m working on a couple of other projects that are in much earlier stages.

Cordelia: I’ve been working on a picture book, a MG novel, and a YA—all in verse!

Thank you, Cordelia and Laurie, for being my guests!

Looking for Cordelia and Laurie? You can find them at these locations.

Laurie Morrison: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Cordelia Jensen: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Every Shiny Thing is available at a bookstore near you and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound.

If you’re a teacher and need resources to teach about the topics in Every Shiny Thing, click here.

One of you will be given a copy of this book simply because you commented. Check back on June 21 to discover the winner. 

Having read Every Shiny Thing, Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron are inspired to do something to help others in need.
What would you do?

Cordelia Jensen author photo by Marietta Pathy Allen. Laurie Morrison author photo by Laura Billingham. Hula hoop from keywordsuggest.org. Scuba gear from ladyasatramp.blogspot.com. Social justice image from stephenandmary.org.au. Google docs image from heavy.com. Robin Hood image from freepins.com. Middle school image from sites.google.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls—Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron—by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.