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.

Joy to the World!

Joy to the world
Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

It’s Christmas Eve! I don’t want to take up too much of your time. As promised, I will reveal the winners of the books discussed in this post in which I featured books by Sarah Aronson, Stephen Bramucci, and Melanie Crowder.

First up, Sarah Aronson. She has two books, but the winner will receive one.

   

The winner of a preorder of Just Like Rube Goldberg is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller -Lachmann—Author, Editor, Teacher!

Next is Stephen Bramucci.

   

The winner of The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts! is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman—Plain and Fancy!

Last but not least is Melanie Crowder.

   

The winner of The Lighthouse between the Worlds is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy—City Jackdaw!

Winners, please comment below to confirm! Let me know if you would like a printed copy or an eBook.

Happy holidays!

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

’Tis the Season to Go Shopping?

Yes, I know this is the second post in a row with a title that begins with the word ’Tis. Life is like that sometimes. Anyway, is it me or are some holidays feeling kind of tacked on? They just seem to exist for the sake of consumerism. Unlike other holidays, many of which are sacred celebrations. Halloween is always clearly marked by pumpkins, candy, costumes, grinning skulls that shriek at you from store aisles, and lots of orange lights. The Day of the Dead has its sugar skulls and remembrances of those who have passed away. But based on the massive amount of emailed ads I recently received, some holidays have kind of been lost in the crowd while others have taken center stage.

So, as far as fall holidays are concerned, we have

• Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

     

• Black Friday
• Cyber Monday (today)


• Hanukkah

Hanukkah
• Christmas


• Kwanzaa

Do I have that right? Nothing’s missing from that list, right? At least according to the ads that have flooded my email.

An emailed ad I recently received

While I hung out at my brother’s house on the day after Thanksgiving (you know, the holiday with turkey—or ribs if you prefer—that comes between Halloween/Day of the Dead and Hanukkah), I watched a Gravity Falls marathon with the fam. Wave after wave of toy commercials whizzed by. Just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I guess. I don’t see how parents of young children can stand up to the holiday toy blitz and not crumple under the pressure. Oh the humanity! I don’t even have children, and I get toy catalogues sent to me in the mail without even asking for them.

Each year the marketing blitz seems to last longer and longer as holidays get added to claim the attention of our wallets. Did you know that Cyber Monday (or at least the term) started in 2005—only 12 years ago? Black Friday, however, has been around since the ’60s according to this website.

Did you participate in Black Friday (which technically started on Thanksgiving Day)? (I didn’t go anywhere near the stores on Black Friday.) Will you participate in Cyber Monday?

While you think about that, I’ll bring up the giveaway I discussed here. I’m giving away a $30 Amazon gift card. Just in time for Cyber Monday, if that’s your thing!

Thanks to the Random Number Generator, I am happy to announce that the winner of the $30 Amazon gift card is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

(I can cut and paste Is . . . all day.  😀 😃 😄)

Is . . .

Is . . . (Next to the last one.)

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to confirm! Thank you to all who commented.

Cyber Monday images from hdwallpapersys.com and from somewhere on Pinterest. Gift image from vizfact.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. blogspot.com. Kwanzaa image from pbslearningmedia.org. Day of the Dead image from freepik.com. Pumpkin luminary photo by L. Marie.

Happy Holidays 2016

22428327-baby-jesus-nativity

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Words: Charles Wesley (1707-88), George Whitfield (1714-70), Martin Madan (1726-90), and William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915)
Music: “Mendelssohn” chorus by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-47), adapted by William Hayman Cummings

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Merry Christmas!
Chag Sameach to those who celebrate Hanukkah.

Before we go our separate holiday ways, I’d like to announce the winner of The Spirit Well by Charles Yallowitz. (If you are confused by that statement, click here.)

the-spirit-well-cover

That person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . . (I could go on like this all day.)

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Congratulations, Jill! You know the drill—please comment below to confirm, then email your info to me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Believe it or not, Kitty received gifts from a grateful fan. She chose not to share her Christmas bounty with anyone.

Baby Jesus image from freeimages.com. Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

How to Really Win the Holidays

I’m very late getting this post  out, having been offline for three days. Obviously, I’ve returned! 🙂 But I said I would announce the winners of the book giveaways today. Better late than never, eh?

If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you’ve probably seen some of Best Buy’s recent “win the holidays” campaign. You can win by purchasing gifts of technology at—where else—Best Buy. The clear winner of course would be Best Buy, who would significantly add to its coffers with your money.

bby-stock-best-buy-logo

But I’m sure you know how to really win the holidays. With the angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2; consult A Charlie Brown Christmas, which comes on TV every year), you can extend goodwill toward people. How?

    • Instead of texting, call or visit a friend or family member—especially someone who lives alone or suffered a recent loss. Maybe you don’t know what to say. But your presence is more valuable than words.
    • Buy someone homeless a hot meal. You’ve probably seen this viral photo, which involves a woman doing just that. Think of the impact you can have. A hot meal might seem like a drop in a bucket compared to an ocean of need. But it’s an act of love that will never be forgotten.
    • Make a card or a gift for someone. Remember how excited you were when you were a kid and could hand off the paper chain or wreath you made? Recapture the fun and wonder by making a gift for someone.

Happy Foot

This is a Happy Foot coaster I’m making as a gift (pattern by A.D. Whited of Enchanted Hook).

  • Instead of stressing about where you can find that bobble-head figure from the Star Wars franchise (Toys R Us or Target by the way—you’re welcome), take a hot chocolate break. I know. Easy for me to say. I don’t have an 11-year-old who is dying to get a storm trooper bobble head. But I know some would love to chat about the movies or shows over a nice cup of hot chocolate.
  • Give an animal friend a treat. Even if you lack a pet, you can still give to the animals around you. The orange tabby who lives in the area likes to stop by for tuna. (Though he’s very finicky about brands. He won’t eat the dirt cheap kind.) If you have a garden that rabbits and deer enjoyed over the summer, relax. You’ve already given.

Another way to win is to get free stuff. So let’s get to the book giveaways: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

ALLWELEFTBEHIND Ingrid Sundberg Author Photo

and Heading North by Andy Murray.

Andy Photo 12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_n

The winner of All We Left Behind is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

christmas-gifts

This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

drumroll

First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

Audacity-cover-206x300  500

The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

20306792  CarolineCarlson

The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

Caminar-hi-res-180x271  Skila-larger-size-180x120

The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

’Tis the Season

Christmas-gift-ideas“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” as the song goes. And it’s my pleasure to announce that Christmas has come early for the two winners of Gene Luen Yang’s two-volume masterpiece Boxers & Saints. Ho ho ho!

             boxerssaints

So, without further ado (or should I say much ado to work in a Shakespeare title), the two winners are . . . first . . .

First . . .

First . . .

First . . .

First . . .

Charles Yallowitz . . . and second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Ellar Cooper!!!!

Congrats to you both. Please email me (lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com) to provide your snail mail address. Please also provide your phone number. (Sorry. That’s Amazon’s requirement for package delivery.) Merry Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, what is it about the holidays that makes you willing to put up with more cheese than usual? Okay. I’ll speak for myself. I’m willing to put up with a great deal of cheese. I’m hooked on the Christmas movies on Hallmark and Lifetime. They’re the perfect vehicles for washed-up ’80s TV stars or sisters of ex-Disney Channel stars. The plot is usually a variation on the following: a recently fired, high-powered career woman/broke single mom needs to turn over a new leaf/sell toys or trees/experience a miracle/pay a mortgage before the bank forecloses/get back her self-respect/mojo. Though she’s as broke as a busted window, she usually has a designer wardrobe with killer shoes and a condo or house large enough for a family of six. Or, she lives with her parents who run their own Christmas-oriented business and cheerfully meddle in her love life.

27161-280x280-Sexychristmasshoes

Nothing says Christmas like these shoes.

Of course she’ll find true wuv before the holidays. A hot guy will walk up to her and ask her out, even if she’s in the ladies room. But she’ll get dumped or dump him five minutes before the end due to a horrible misunderstanding. Thankfully, her adorable child/wacky best friend/loyal dog/nagging mom/conscience/belief in Santa Claus/circumstances will work to give her the happy ending the movie requires. Before that happens, there will be lots of holiday moments: ice skating, tree trimming, hot chocolate sipping, tinkling the ivories while singing Christmas carols, Christmas cookie baking, kisses under the mistletoe, and walks around Manhattan. She’ll help him be less cynical/love tree decorating/regain his Christmas spirit/learn to ice skate. He’ll teach her to love again/take a risk/ice skate/see the beauty within/work with disadvantaged kids. Good times. Note that zombies never figure into the scenario. Sigh.

  simple-christmas-tree-wallpapersbuckethead

This . . . but never . . . this.

But I don’t mind the predictability. Movies like this are comfort food for the eyes, thanks to the guaranteed happy ending. After all, it’s Christmas, right?

Sigh. As much as I love a happy ending, for some reason, I can’t wrap things up so cheerfully in my novel. I’ve tried. So I wrote an ending that seems more realistic. Yet I feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas as I steal the joy from my characters. I wish some adorable child/loyal dog/wacky best friend would come and make things all warm and fuzzy. But given the events of the story—heartache, unrequited love, death, chaos—warm fuzzies at the end are an uneasy fit, even with a bit of wuv woven into the narrative.

So, I watch these holiday-cheer movies as I work up the courage to end my characters’ hopes for now. Blue Christmas? They’ll probably have one, even if the characters in the movies I watch don’t.

How about you? Is a happy ending a requirement for you? If not, what is the most satisfying ending you’ve read recently, even if it was sad?

Gift image from vizfact.com. Tree from wallpaperchristmas.net. Shoes from shoes.lovetoknow.com. Zombie from plantsvszombies.wikia.com.

A Belly Button for My Bookcase

024Every bookcase needs a belly button. What? You don’t believe that? It just so happens that mine has one. (And yes, my bookshelves are crowded.)

Have you spotted it yet? The belly button I mean. It’s the word joy. A belly button reminds me that I was born a vulnerable human being—a tiny baby connected to my mother for nine months. Joy reminds me that I’m still a vulnerable human being in need of the fresh perspective that joy brings.

And of course, this season of Christmas with songs that declare “O tidings of comfort and joy” and “Joy to the World, the Lord is come” are a vivid reminder to be proactive about being joyful. Not always easy, huh?

Julie-as-Maria-maria-von-trapp-julie-andrews-30320447-486-750You know, the word joy has occupied my bookshelf so long—years actually—I stopped seeing it until today when I needed the reminder. See, instead of tidings of joy, I’ve been singing tidings of grumpiness, constantly focused on what I think I don’t have or what I do have (loud neighbors, a car with bald tires, a refrigerator without chocolate). I’d forgotten that joy, unlike happiness, isn’t intermittent or based on things going right. It’s an all-day feeling—a secret room in my heart. I can go there, put my feet up, and remember. As Maria (Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music sang, “These are a few of my favorite things.”

Take a joy break with me today. Remember what brings you joy.

    zuko-300x185Plain-M&Ms-Pile

Royal_Poinciana

“These are a few of my favorite thiiiiiiiiiiiiings!”

Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp from fanpop.com. Prince Zuko from probablymortal.com. M&Ms from shinebeautybeacon.blogspot.com. Royal Poinciana tree from commons.wikimedia.org.