Remembering

As I set out to photograph the flowers around my apartment complex, I couldn’t help remembering my grandmothers: Lela (paternal) and Marie (maternal). Both are dead now, one as recent as 2011. Seems fitting to think of them on Memorial Day. Though neither fought in a war—Memorial Day being a day to pay honor to military service people—they were soldiers nevertheless. Just not in the military.

    

In keeping with my habit of not posting family photos (I’m writing this blog under a pen name after all), I will not post photos of my grandmothers. (Sorry to disappoint.) Instead, think of the flowers I photographed as representing my grandmothers. 🙂

Now, what do I mean by soldiers? Imagine being dirt poor and having kids to raise. You fight a battle against despair every day. But you have to win this battle for the sake of your kids. Both of my grandmothers had large families—my paternal grandmother having nine children, and my maternal grandmother having fifteen. You read that right. Two of my mother’s siblings did not live to adulthood.

My grandmothers didn’t go to college. One grandmother didn’t even go to high school. But all of her children did. College too. Both grandmothers wanted their children to have a better life than they did.

    

When I was a kid, my family spent many a weekend traveling to Pontiac, Michigan, to visit my paternal grandparents, and many a summer’s day driving to see my maternal grandmother in Lake Providence, Louisiana. We never thought about the fact that my grandparents were poor. They loved us, and we loved being with them.

My paternal grandmother taught me to crochet. My maternal grandmother taught me to be generous even if I have next to nothing to give. That was how she lived.

Some people talk about antiques or trust funds passed on to them by grandparents. Neither of my grandmothers had much to leave anyone. But they left something money couldn’t buy—a legacy of resilience, faith, and unselfishness. Not to mention precious memories of time spent with them. Their personalities imprint just about every story I write (and even one that I ghostwrote under a different name).

   

This Memorial Day, I also remember the people of Manchester and the victims of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22. My blogger friend Laura said it best in this post. She provided excerpts from a post and comments by another blogger friend, Andy, who lives in Manchester. Many of you follow his City Jackdaw blog.

Memorial Day also is a day for me to remember that I’m giving away two books.

    

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of The World’s Greatest Detective is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Nancy and Jill, please comment below to confirm. If either of you would prefer an eBook to a physical copy of the book, please let me know.

Rosie Bloom is shocked to discover that the flowers she planted came up crocheted. She plans to contact the seed company to demand answers.

Photos by L. Marie. Rosie Bloom by Moose Toys.

Try Everything?

I’m currently obsessed with the movie Zootopia. Now that it’s on DVD/blu-ray, I’ve seen it at least six or seven times.

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I even have the theme song, “Try Everything” by Shakira, on my phone. I love the message and the way it relates to the journey of the main character—Judy Hopps.

If you have an extra three minutes, you might check out the song (though be warned; it has scenes from the movie that are slight spoilers):

My sister-in-law is someone who embodies the message of this song. Last week, she went to boot camp, not because she enlisted in the military but because she wanted to test herself—to see if she could make it through boot camp. She had the same attitude about the half marathon one year. Six months before the event, she organized a group of her friends to train for the half marathon. Never mind the fact that they’d never done the half-marathon before. They met the qualifying time and did well in the event.

“Try Everything” also reminds me of a conversation I overheard last week while on the train. A woman was talking to a friend about her upcoming birthday celebration.

“We’re going skydiving!” she declared. I couldn’t tell if she was about to try skydiving for the first time or not. All I know is that she was excited to go.

For me “try everything” usually only comes up in regard to an all-you-can-eat buffet. (Talk about a “full” life.) But lately, I’ve worried that I’ve been missing out. Is fear of failing holding me back from “trying everything”? Have I truly tried to be all that I could be? Did I miss out because I didn’t go to boot camp with my sister-in-law?

So I had a heart-to-heart talk with Barbie today. I grabbed a cup of joe while she made herself comfortable on a napkin. Since she’s the Made to Move variety, I was certain she would have good insight.

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“The way I see it,” she said, “is this: you admire your sister-in-law for trying new things. But did you really want to go to boot camp?”

“Um . . . not really.”

“Well, let’s talk about some things you tried that were out of your comfort zone. What about the time you wrote a screenplay?”

“How’d you know about that?”

“This is an imaginary conversation, so of course I would know. Did you like doing that?”

“I enjoyed trying a form of writing I hadn’t tried before.”

“What about when your advisor challenged you to write poetry every day and you decided to also write song lyrics. What did you learn about yourself?”

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“That writing any kind of poetry is difficult. Poets like Andy Murray make it look easy, because of the high quality of their work. Still, I enjoyed the challenge.”

And that was the key. Some people enjoy mountain climbing, skydiving, and other activities that challenge them physically, because that’s what they enjoy. And I enjoy some aspects of a physical challenge. But I love anything that challenges me creatively.

What about you? Are you the kind of person who tries everything? In what way(s) do you like to challenge yourself?

For more info on Made to Move Barbies, click here.

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Zootopia movie poster from film-book.com.

See You at the Movies?

Happy belated Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. My family and I went to see Finding Dory the other day as a combination Happy Birthday/Father’s Day celebration for my younger brother. A good time was had by all.

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While we waited for the movie to start, my sister-in-law mentioned that it was the first movie she’d seen at the theater in over a year. Interestingly, Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Dory (and Finding Nemo), had a short clip before the movie began in which he thanked the audience for coming out to watch the movie; thus acknowledging that the movie-going experience is increasingly rare for many.

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When I was a teen and a younger adult, I hit the movies just about every weekend. I didn’t miss a major movie. But for five of the last six years, I can use one hand to count the number of movies I’ve seen at the theater. Last year, I saw more movies at the theater than I’d seen in years. I saw

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See? Not a ton of movies. For others, popping a DVD or blu-ray disk into a player was the extent of my movie-going experience. (Wish I’d seen The Martian at the movie theater. Glad I saw it on blu-ray at least.)

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This year, I’ve seen Captain America: Civil War twice (took my niece the second time), Zootopia, and now Finding Dory. I hope to see several others on my list—like Doctor Strange; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Suicide Squad; and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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A number of factors work against my desire to go to a movie theater: higher prices; films that are all style and no substance; and rude moviegoers. In one movie theater I attended, a group of teens talked loudly and ran around the theater until the manager threw them out—halfway through the movie. So I usually head to the cheap theaters, reserving the first-run experience for the movies I want to see the most. And I tend to see movies I really want to see, rather than take a chance on an unknown the way I used to do. (Same with books, sadly.)

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(By the way, many critics declared that Jurassic World lacked substance. Though the characters were underdeveloped (and some were downright annoying), the movie’s entertainment value made up for the lack of substance—at least for me.)

I miss the days when my good friend who lived next door, my brother, and I would look at each other and say, “Let’s go to the movies.” And then off we’d go without a second thought. Back in the day, Spielberg movies were always a draw for us, along with those of John Carpenter, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and others.

I also miss some of the element of surprise. Nowadays, with incessant internet trailers that give too much away, and people blabbing spoilers on social media, you practically know everything about a movie before you walk in the theater. To maintain at least some of the surprise, I tend to avoid watching more than one trailer for the movies I’m determined to see at the theater.

Still another thing I miss is having a slate of movies to choose from with well-developed plots, dialogue, and pacing. Instead, we might get one good movie and several well-this-is-sort-of-okay-though-it-is-a-dumbed-down-adaptation-of a-well-known-book/inferior-remake/sequel-of-a-better-film. That’s why I love the adage at Pixar: “Story is king.” (They also have the twenty-two rules below.) I wish many studios believed that.

Pixar's 22 Rules of Phenomenal Storytelling

How many movies did you see at the theater last year? What do you like or dislike about the movie-going experience? What movie are you excited to see this year?

Brooklyn movie poster from movieposter.com. Jurassic World movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Inside Out movie poster from movieweb.com. Finding Dory movie poster from screenrant.com. Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster from inquisitr.com. The Martian movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Zootopia movie poster from film-book.com. Captain America: Civil War movie poster from shockya.com. Movie theater clip art from clker.com. Pixar rules from gsartfactory.blogspot.com.

The Chosen One

While there is a Chosen One trope, this post is not really about that. . . . Well, okay, I will get back to that trope later.

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My niece has been accepted into five grad programs. I’m not going to mention the schools. Suffice it to say that many people want to go to these schools. I’ll pause here to allow you time to guess how old I have to be to have a niece about to graduate from college. (Though for all you know, she could be a twelve-year-old prodigy. But I won’t confirm or deny guesses about my age. Just so you know.)

Are you done? Good. Anyhoo, I’m embarrassed to say that my first reaction (other than pride in my niece’s academic desirability) was, Humph. I never had five of anything wanting me. Well, except for the time those bees were after me.

Now let’s back the pity truck up to my undergraduate years. I worked hard—at partying, that is. Because my GPA plummeted, I had to work really, really hard to get my grades up to “Well, okay, we won’t kick you out” status. My straight-A niece, however, has been a disciplined student for years.

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My industrious niece (photo at left; busy as a . . . well, you can see what animal) and me as an undergraduate by comparison (though I’m closer in looks to that chicken in the photo at right)

So, there is a certain work ethic to being chosen. Hard work often is par for the course. Think of the star high school and college players who go on to play professional sports.

Of course, we all know people who were handed opportunities simply because they were at the right place at the right time (or had the right parents). But some were chosen because of other factors—extraordinary looks, talent, or intelligence. For example, one of my college roommates senior year had the kind of head-turning beauty that made her many female enemies. (We got along fine . . . after awhile.) She could walk into a room and capture the attention of every male present.

We all want to be chosen, don’t we? We want to win the contest, get that scholarship or placement in our school of choice, the gold star, the book contract, the agent—whoever or whatever our goal happens to be.

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Perhaps that’s one reason why the trope of the Chosen One sometimes grates (besides the fact that it has been overused). An article at Fantasy Faction (you can read it by clicking here), puts it this way:

The chosen one is a trope that sets one character above the others as special. They are the hero, the one chosen by fate. . . . The idea that some people might be born better than others is something we tend to firmly reject today.

We might reject it, because we want to believe that if we work hard enough, good things will come to us. Or we want to believe that we’re good enough or special enough. But sometimes, though we work as hard as we can, and are good enough, we still aren’t chosen. Bummer, right?

But that leaves us with a choice still—like the one I had when considering my niece’s good news. I could celebrate with her (or others with good news) or fall back on statements showing envy like, “Some people have all the luck” or “Why couldn’t something this good happen to me?” Those are my usual fallback statements. Know why? Because they keep me from thinking about all of the opportunities I wasted—when I slacked off, instead of working or practicing or doing the types of things that make a person top choice.

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I’m tired of envying someone his or her chosen status. Instead I can choose to make better choices—like not comparing myself to others; like believing I’m special even when I’m not chosen. I know this choice is difficult, especially in matters of the heart (like when someone I love chooses to marry someone else, rather than me—yep; I’ve been there) or when I’m around a chosen one who is full of himself of herself. But even in that circumstance, I can still choose to be okay with myself.

Have you ever been “the Chosen One”? What was that experience like for you? Have you ever envied someone who was chosen?

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Me hard at work . . . or watching YouTube videos and thinking about work

Beaver from searchpp.com. Keep calm sign from keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk. First-place ribbon from sticker.com. Envy image from gograph.com. Photos of My Little Pony Pinkie Pie® by L. Marie.

Making Friends with Winter

017After waking up to witness the aftermath of an overnight snowfall (above), I groaned, totally not in the mood for snow. We’d dodged the snow bullet at Christmas, though everyone I know was disappointed, having desired to frolic in the snow.

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Sometimes Winter seems to loom large . . .

Usually when snow falls, my mind dwells on the state of the roads. You get that way when you have dodgy tires and lack the money to replace them. So, I muttered to myself as I brushed the snow off my car windows: “Why couldn’t the snow fall when I didn’t have somewhere to go (i.e., at 3 or 4 a.m.)? If only winter could be more subdued.”

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Jordie tries to subdue Winter. I suspect that his plan is doomed to failure.

As I brushed the snow and scraped the ice off my windshield, I quickly grew tired of my bad attitude. Grumbling didn’t solve anything. I needed to embrace the season since, like it or not, it’s here to stay. But my mind required “winterizing” just like my car. For the car, I usually make sure the fluid levels are on par (particularly antifreeze and water in the radiator). To get myself in the winter mood, I need a constant supply of fluids too, namely, hot beverages like coffee, cocoa, tea, and apple cider.

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Jordie attempts to make friends with Winter.

One thing that helped my mood today, besides a warm cup of coffee, was the gladsome sight of freshly plowed roads. And the trees along the roads were beautifully laced with snow. I can’t imagine a wedding dress more beautiful than those snow-laden trees. That’s one of the perks of living in an area where winter makes its presence felt through snow and ice and iron-gray skies.

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These are not the trees I saw, but they have a snow-laced appearance, albeit with less snow than the ones I saw.

The Frozen-themed birthday party I attended on Saturday in honor of a newly minted three-year-old seems all the more appropriate now with snow on the ground. Alas, I don’t have an ice-blue gown as beautiful as Elsa’s. I’m forced to make do with a fun winter hat.

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This is not my hat. I made it for a little boy. But you can bet I’ll soon make myself a puppy hat.

Some cool good things have happened in this winter season—another reason to be joyful, rather than annoyed. I had a great Christmas and celebrated New Year’s day—my nephew’s birthday—with my family. And two days before the new year, some dear friends celebrated the birth of their second son. Oddly enough, he was born on the same day as the son of some other dear friends. In a season where life seems dormant or brittle, it’s great to hold a brand-new life in your arms. But I digress. . . .

Another way I can winterize my mind, besides having fun building a snowman or sledding (excellent choices), is to reread stories set in winter: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis just to name a few. I love curling up under a warm blanket while reading a book featuring a frozen landscape with snow I don’t have to shovel. And I have all of these on my bookshelf.

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Happy New Year! And welcome to Winter 2015!

What’s your favorite way to winterize?

Central Park trees from hqworld.net. Elsa film poster from filmpopper.com.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Snake Surprise

When I told my dad about the butterfly and moth post I wrote recently, somehow we got on the subject of snakes. . . . Oh I know why we did. We were talking about crawfish (or crayfish if you prefer) and how I’d seen some in our backyard, along with snakes.

“It wasn’t my imagination, was it?” I asked, since I . . . um . . . had imaginary friends as a kid. I just wanted to make sure. . . .

He said that yes, there were burrowing crawfish in a hole in our yard, maybe two years after we moved into our house in Chicago—a house that had been newly built at the time. (Wondering about burrowing crawfish? Check this or this or even this.) And there were snakes too. When I was seven, I remember being terrified of a green snake crawling along the sidewalk in the front of our house, and wondered how it got there (after I finished screaming). Well, mystery solved finally on the snake front, after all of these years.

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“Your brother brought them home,” said Dad. (Note the plural pronoun them.)

My older brother and his best friend, both nine years old at the time, had gone exploring around an old factory (later torn down due to the expressway extension by our house) and brought home souvenirs—snakes to live at our house. Perhaps the others escaped their clutches. But one decided to linger at our house. When I saw it, I didn’t want to go outside ever again, especially since the snake chose to slither into the bushes at the front of the house.

“Oh girl, the snake’s not poisonous,” said my sympathetic parents. (Keep in mind that I was a city kid and had never seen a snake before, outside of a reptile house at the zoo. My parents had been raised on farms in a different state, and could readily identify a poisonous snake, having seen them.)

So I have my brother to thank for my trauma. I should have known. He also was the one who favored the old snake in a can gag.

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But how to thank him properly? Unfortunately, he lives over a thousand miles from me, so I can’t send a snake his way.

Or can I?

I had to Google to find out. Turns out I could through Ship Your Reptiles.com! It’s nice to know that I have options. Mwwwwahahahaha!

But this brings to mind another incident involving snakes. Back in my early days as a curriculum editor, the managing editor brought his pet boa constrictor to the office and parked him in one of the conference rooms. I was curious and a little bolder than I was at the age of seven, so I drifted into the room where a crowd had gathered. But I flinched as the snake’s head edged toward me.

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“Oh, let him crawl up your arm!” said the managing editor. “He’s friendly.”

Haven’t we all heard that one before, usually in regard to a snarling pet who might be friendly to the owners, but not to strangers? I didn’t want to look like a wimp, so I did. The boa was very smooth as he made his way up my arm. But since he did not provide flowers or candy nor ask for my phone number, our relationship was brief.

I can only hope that in the future no one else decides to surprise me with a snake. If anyone’s going to do the surprising, that person’s gonna be me.

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If you think of it, say happy birthday to Andra Watkins, who is two thirds of the way through her Natchez Trace walk! This is one for the history books!

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Snake photos from Wikipedia. Snake in a can from ebay. Birthday cake from great-birthday-party-ideas.com.