Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.

Why Textures Matter

You don’t have to be a fabric designer or a naturally tactile person to have an affinity for certain textures. You know when you like the feel of something and when you don’t. Which is why you probably wouldn’t choose to wear a sweater made out of burlap but would choose a cotton or cashmere one. (Or you might not, according to this article or this one.)

As a crafter, I work with a lot of yarn. Since many projects take hours and sometimes days to complete, I would rather work with softer yarns. Easier on the hands. I love alpaca yarn [photo at the right], because it is very soft. But it is expensive, so polyester is often the go-to.

     

Take a look at the photos below. You can just about tell, even without touching the yarn, which one(s) might be the softest. What is your guess?

1.


2.


3.


4.


5.

In case you’re wondering, the softest ones are 1, 3, and 5. Yarns like this are used to make blankets and clothes for babies, because they are suitably soft for their delicate skin. Think about a blanket you had as a child and how it felt.

Last week, I had a conversation in Target with a husband and wife who shopped for pillows. I couldn’t help asking them what made them choose a pillow with the jaw-dropping price of $85. (The last pillow I’d purchased was $3.99.)

The wife said the pillow’s memory foam was what sold them. They loved its smooth as well as soft/firm combination.

The husband said, “Go on and touch it! You know you want to!”

So I did. It felt incredible. “Sweet dreams are made of this,” as Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics sang.

He pointed down the aisle. “The mattress is great too.” It was almost $600!

“Get back, foul tempter!” I wanted to scream, knowing I could not afford either. Rather than touch it and set myself to longing after it, I bid a hasty retreat.

Textures! They have a huge impact on clothing and home interiors and our moods. Think about the fabrics or textures throughout your home—why they were chosen, and how they make you feel. According to this article,

[W]e turn to certain types of fabrics when we have different emotional requirements.
People turn to smooth and soft textures when they are in need of some emotional reassurance.

There’s probably a link to childhood and the way some textures made us feel. Whenever I was sick as a child, I wanted a soft blanket to curl up in and fuzzy slippers on my feet. I still do. But when I’m driving a car, I want a firm, no-nonsense fabric on my steering wheel, because it gives me a sense of stability. (My mother, however, prefers a soft covering for her steering wheel.) I’m not quite sure of the childhood tie-in to the steering wheel however. The closest I can think of is a rubber duck I used to have when I was a toddler. No matter what I did to that thing, I couldn’t tear a hole in it. It made me feel I would have that duck forever. Though I don’t know where it is at present, surely that duck is still around somewhere.

Any thoughts on fabric textures and how they make you feel? Feel free to comment below.

Alpaca yarn from contoocookalpaca.com. Classic rubber duck from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie.

Hues Clues: My Favorite Blues

You might be thinking of blues songs by now or the old Nickelodeon show Blue’s Clues (which is being rebooted for this fall).

I’m thinking of the color blue. Though I have a different favorite color (red), I noticed a lot of great shades of blue around. Take a look.

 

1                                        2

 

3                                       4

 

5                                         6

 

7                                          8

 

9                                          10

   

11                                            12

And of course these book covers:

 

13                                      14

    

15                                     16

I wish I could’ve found a few more natural items in my area. But pink, yellow, or red flowers abound. Anyway, this isn’t just a photo gallery. You’re probably wondering why each item is numbered. That’s because this gallery is also a quiz. 😊 Which picture above fits each word or phrase below? Either what’s in the photo will complete the phrase or it is a descriptor of an item below. Hope that makes sense. In your head or on a piece of paper connect the letter of each item below (A, B, C, D) with the number of the photo above that fits it. For some items, you’re going to have to look closely at the photos. (Note that the numbers are under the photos to which they belong.) Are you ready? Begin! (Confused? Comment below.)

A. The limit (popular idiom)
B. Sanrio (Google if you don’t know what this is.)
C. Sibling (part of a well-known phrase)
D. Wah. Yay!

Comment below with your answers. I’ll let you know if you’re right! (I have one definite answer for each. But kudos to you if you can make a creative case for alternate answers.)

I’m so tempted to make a color series. But if you have followed my blog for any length of time, you already know that a series is not something you’ll find much of around here. 😄 However, if you would like to see a series like this, please let me know.

New best friends, Henry and Tia, wanted to get in on this blue thing. So, they coerced a pencil sharpener against its will to take this photo with them.

Book covers courtesy of the authors. Blue’s Clues logo from Wikipedia. Other photos by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Nicole Valentine of steaMG—The Middle Grade Sci-Fi Authors Alliance

Today, I’ve turned over the reins of the blog to my good friend, Nicole Valentine, whose middle grade novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, will be published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner this October (but is available for preorder now). Nicole is here to talk about her latest venture.

A big thank you, L. Marie. for giving me the opportunity to answer two questions here on your blog. She asked me, “What is steaMG and why did you create it?”

SteaMG.org is a collective of authors who want to celebrate sci-fi and science-inspired fiction for middle grade readers. Currently, there are fifteen of us. Our member authors contribute to the blog and we have special guest posts too. Our aim is to add new member authors twice a year, while always looking for interesting guests. Every member has a middle grade book either published or on contract that can be described as sci-fi, spec, or science-inspired fantasy or fiction. We write about time travel, parallel universes, strange new worlds, outer space, and nature doing weird and wonderful things—all subjects that inspire wonder and awe.

As to why I made this collective, when I first had the idea, I wanted an online space where fellow authors could talk about their love of the genre, be an online source of information for librarians, teachers and readers—and also for each other. I envisioned a discussion board where fellow middle grade sci-fi authors could talk and schedule events with each other and share ideas. My biggest worry was no one else out there would join me! I decided the only way to see if it would work was to start it—an “if you build it, they will come” approach. I posted on several discussion boards and talked to other friends in the industry and that is how I found the initial fifteen. I give them a lot of credit for signing on to something that did not yet exist. It’s a bit like agreeing to take a voyage before the ship is built.

My initial blog post at steaMG.org, “The Science of Awe,” talks about why the emotion of awe is so important and why I think it’s important that we foster it in children at an early age. I credit sci-fi books with saving me as a kid. I read whatever I could find about time travel after losing my father to a sudden heart attack. To adults, trying to learn how to time travel sounds like an illogical solution to grief, though in many ways, it worked! Those books taught me hope. They gave me something to chase after—the feeling of wonder and awe. They gave me tools to cope.

That’s just my own personal story about how I relate to the genre, but there are so many ways it works well in children’s books. It’s full of possibility in creating empathy, introducing children to the possibility of worlds and people beyond their own, and seeing their intrinsic value. It helps children step outside of their viewpoint and witness their own world as an objective visitor. You don’t need to travel through outer space to do that either! Fellow steaMG author Caroline Carlson’s novel, The Door at the End of the World [debuting this April] does this really well with a fun, sly wink. I hope she’ll talk a bit more about that in her upcoming post. I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow steaMG members talk about what inspires them and why they write what they do.

    

As to what you can expect in the coming year, we will keep you up to date on middle grade books coming out in the genre. We have thought-provoking guest posts lined up in the next few months: one takes a deep dive into middle grade sci-fi from an academic viewpoint, another will talk about the genre in short story form for middle grade. There will be brilliant insights on the craft of writing from member authors, and an interview with the artist whose sci-fi art graces a fair portion of our site and the very strange coincidence that brought him to us.

And that’s all just the beginning. It’s a big universe and there’s a lot to explore. We are accepting guest contributors and traditionally published authors who would like to join are welcome to head over to steaMG and say hello.

Nicole Valentine has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She teaches writing at the Highlights Foundation. Previously, Nicole was a Chief Technology Officer at Sally Ride’s Space.com, Figment.com, and an early member of the web team at CNN.com. Nicole resides outside of Philadelphia with her family, two large dogs named Merlin and Arthur, and two small cats named Pickwick and Tink.

L. Marie here. I hope to have Nicole back at a later date for the cover reveal of her novel. And speaking of novels, Melanie Crowder, whose novel, The Lighthouse between the Worlds, was featured in the Christmas giveaway (see this post), also is a steaMG author.

 

SteaMG Logo by Jim Hill. Nicole Valentine author photo by Nina Pomeroy Photography. Space image from graphicsbeam.com. Caroline Carlson author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Infinity clock image from ufo-spain.com.

Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.