Check This Out: An Impossible Distance to Fall

On the blog today is the second of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates, the marvelous Miriam McNamara. No stranger to the blog is Miriam. (Click here for her last visit.) She’s here to talk about her young adult historical novel, An Impossible Distance to Fall, published by Sky Pony Press on July 2. (Click here for a synopsis.)

   

Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein. After our conversation, stay tuned to hear about a giveaway of An Impossible Distance to Fall.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Miriam: 1. I’ve never flown a biplane or wing walked, but like Birdie, I’ve always loved to dance! The dance scenes were some of the most fun for me to write as I played with how movement and emotion interact in the body creatively. Yum!


2. I went to college pretty young—when I was sixteen—around the time a lot of upheaval in my family of origin was happening. When I got to school, I was kind of adopted by a group of queer upperclassmen who looked out for me and invited me to things, and made sure I was doing okay. Birdie’s departure from her family and integration into the barnstorming circus is based on that experience.
3. I started this novel during the Recession after 2008, when the stock market crash of 1929 and how it affected people seemed particularly relevant. My generation and the young adults of today are still dealing with a lot of financial uncertainty, so I think these lessons of the past are particularly interesting.


4. I have a lot of tattoos, but Birdie’s tattoo that she gets in the novel is based on a stick-and-poke tattoo that I gave my friend Ivy in college. It was a flock of bird silhouettes, just like Birdie’s, and done in the same manner, with a needle and thread and India ink.

Miriam at her book signing at MOON PALACE BOOKS in Minneapolis

El Space: Your last novel was about pirates. What was the inspiration behind this novel about wing walkers and a barnstorming circus in 1930?
Miriam: A nonfiction writer read aloud from a work-in-progress about a real-life wing walker from the ’20s at a workshop I attended, and my mind was blown. I’d never heard of such a thing. As I listened to her read I thought, I would NEVER take such an insane risk as walking out on the wing of a flying airplane! But at exactly the same time, I remembered who I was when I was sixteen, and knew that that me would have done it in a heartbeat. It made me want to write a story about that person.

El Space: What do you hope teens will gain from your main character Birdie’s life and the times in which she lived?
Miriam: Birdie’s external life explodes when the stock market crashes—but what causes her deepest pain is the loss of her father when he disappears. For young Birdie, life and her dad both seemed ideal. She has to learn to accept that things aren’t always perfect. People and circumstance will let you down over and over. You have to love and honor the good stuff while acknowledging that other stuff sucks and it’s okay to be hurt and to grieve. And when your life explodes or falls apart, it also leads to so much possibility and openness that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Storms bring rainbows, you know?

El Space: Birdie interacts with a large cast of characters who aid in her evolution as a character. Who were the most fun or the most challenging to write about?
Miriam: I think the most challenging for me was Gilda, the woman that Birdie’s father chases after. Birdie initially thinks of her as this Jezebel character who has stolen her father away. It was challenging to really communicate Gilda’s complexity. She plays this seductive character professionally as a lounge singer, but she’s actually a real person who did nothing wrong, and Birdie’s anger is misplaced. It took me a few tries to show who she really is beyond the role she plays in Birdie’s life, which leads to a lot of growth in Birdie.

The most fun to write, though! It’s so hard to choose. I loved writing Colette, the tattooed lady; she’s so cranky and deadpan and soooo NOT impressed with Birdie—but then at the crux of the novel, Colette lets Birdie know that she sees and values the person struggling inside of Birdie’s perfect veneer.

But then there’s June. Sigh. . . . I love writing a love interest! June is so sexy. I loved writing her lanky tomboy-in-a-flight-suit Southern Charmer personality.

 

El Space: This is your second historical fiction novel. What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you?
Miriam: I love reading historical fiction, but queer people, especially queer women, have been so written out of history, always relegated to tragic plot devices if they are included at all. I want to write them back into history, and give them so much love and life and joy along with their struggles.

El Space: What was your research process? How did you keep the details you gleaned from research from overwhelming the story you wanted to tell? [One of the tips offered for historical fiction writers in this post here.]
Miriam: With my first novel, I often felt like the details overtook my narrative! The struggle is real. With this novel, I let the narrative guide me into my research. How did banks fail? How did the larger stock market crash impact the financial chain? Who were some wing walkers and women pilots and barnstormers I could use for inspiration? I tried to stick to the story I wanted to tell without getting sidelined by too many interesting details as I came across them. Once I had a strong narrative, then I went back to add in a lot more fun historical stuff—and that led to a lot of richness being layered in once the story was there.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Miriam: This year I decided I was going to read as many books by queer people about queer people as possible. I am very inspired by LGBTQ+ authors telling their stories, especially for young readers. So over the past few months I’ve been super inspired by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, some VCFA friends who are writing all sorts of queer stories; I finally was introduced to Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novels, which are amazing; I read awesome books by Kacen Callender and Lev Rosen and Alex Gino; and a Minneapolis author, Junauda Petrus, has a queer young adult love story coming out this fall called The Stars and the Blackness Between Them that I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard excerpts read aloud, and I know it’s going to inspire the hell out of me.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Miriam: I’m taking a break from research and writing a contemporary YA novel, but I also have an idea for a historical fantasy that I’m itching to write. I’m definitely taking it slow and feeling out where I want to go from here. Publishing two books in the past two years has been such a whirlwind, accompanied by a lot of life craziness. I could go anywhere from here, you know? Kinda like Birdie. Anything is possible from here. . . .

Thanks, Miriam, for being my guest!

Looking for Miriam? Look no further than her website or Twitter. On Instagram she is booklovemiriam.

Looking for An Impossible Distance to Fall? (Taken out of context, that question is very interesting.) Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Also look no further than your very own mailbox or Kindle (if you prefer), since one of you will get a copy of this book simply by commenting below! Winner to be announced one day next week.

Royal Bee looks skeptically on as Neon practices her wing walker routine. “Looks more like a mummy walking than like Birdie,” Royal Bee quips.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Miriam McNamara. Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Wing walker image from wallpaperim.net. Dance image from clipground.com. Newspaper clipping from balkanplumbing.com. Old airplane photo from pxhere.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Guest Post: Katia Raina

Please welcome to the blog the awe-inspiring Katia Raina, who is here to talk about her young adult novel! Take it away, Katia!

I find myself at a thrilling turn of my life’s journey. Today, I am the debut author of Castle of Concrete, a young adult romance set in 1990s Russia, coming this June from Young Europe Books. Once a relentless journalist, now a goofy middle school English teacher, always a stubborn early morning writer, I am excited to share a bit of my story with you here on L. Marie’s blog.

My story starts across the ocean in a small Ukrainian city, then Siberia, then Moscow, Russia.

On the outside, I was a quiet Russian girl (photo at left), a shy one, an odd one. On the inside, I was Jewish, and proud, even though I knew early on it was not a thing to advertise. I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with dream worlds of romance, science fiction and fairy tales.

 

No matter the genre, it was easy to identify with outcasts and outsiders. I wondered what separated some people from others. I wondered why people did that—allowed some to belong, while pushing others away.

My story starts with lots of loneliness—lots of quiet, lots of missing of my dear mama, who was struggling to put her life together far away from me—as my grandmother did her best to raise me. Looking back, I recognize the quiet wasn’t always filled with loneliness. The quiet in which I grew up gave me the chance to look closely at the world and take note. It gave me lots and lots of space in which to dream and to wonder. Though I didn’t know it then, it seems so obvious now—it was this quiet that formed the writer I would become.

While I was growing up, my country, then called the Soviet Union, was crumbling under the Communist rule. Lots of resentment building, ready to burst out. Because my grandfather had left the country for the shiny America, we were considered to be in many ways a “traitor’s family.” This made things even harder for my mother, an aspiring journalist trying to get into a good university or land a solid job. Being Jewish didn’t help either.

I emigrated to the United States with my family just before I turned 16. That was when I knew I found my home at last, in this land of diversity and variety. As I grew up, became a journalist and started a family of my own, the memories and questions of childhood and adolescence rose back to the surface, and I began writing a romance novel about a shy Jewish girl in the last year of the collapsing Soviet Union, reuniting with her long-absent dissident mother and falling in love with a boy who may be an anti-Semite.

I didn’t set out to write historical fiction. I didn’t necessarily make a conscious decision to become an author for young adults, either. I just wrote the story that had been bursting to come out. Even so, it took me 15 years to get this story just right. Now I am overjoyed to share it with the world.

Many ask if Sonya Solovay, the protagonist of Castle of Concrete, is based on me, and if the story I wrote is based on real events of my childhood. It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. While this story came onto the page straight from my soul, and while Sonya and I definitely have a lot in common, this story is fiction—bits of memory and reality intertwined so tightly with fancy and imagination, that at this point for me, it’s kind of impossible to tell the two apart. One thing about this story that is very real though, is my struggle as a teen to find my strength and my voice, and to learn to embrace all parts of me, including ones I understood so little about, such as my Jewish roots.

This is why I wrote Castle of Concrete, and this is what I hope readers take away from it. The inspiration to learn about the heritage and history that make them who they are. The courage to make their journey their own.

Castle of Concrete Synopsis: Set in the final year of Soviet Russia’s collapse, this stunning debut novel tells the story of Sonya, a timid Jewish girl reuniting with her once-dissident mother and falling in love with a mysterious muddy-eyed boy who may be an anti-Semite. All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also⎯with shiny America, a land where differences seem to be celebrated. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?

Bio
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. She emigrated from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic.

L. Marie here. I’ll be giving away a preorder of Castle of Concrete. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on February 25.

Looking for Katia? You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, her blog (The Magic Mirror), and Goodreads.

Author, childhood photo, and book cover courtesy of Katia Raina. Map from maps.nationmaster.com. . Russian fairy tale images, including the Palekh miniature, are from rbth.com and russian-crafts.com.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Today on the blog, you can help me welcome the awesomely splendid Janet Fox. I met Janet in a workshop during my first semester at VCFA. Janet is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, which includes an element of magic.

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Janet is represented by Erin Murphy. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle will be published by Viking on March 15. Go here to read the synopsis and to watch the book trailer.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Janet: I love gardening and hiking in the mountains. Once upon a time I thought I would be a musician. I’ve been to the bottom of the sea floor in a submersible several times while researching my MS degree. I write every day, including weekends.

El Space: You’ve written a number of young adult novels. What inspired you to write this middle grade story?

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Janet: Great question. This story was inspired by a picture of an odd piece of jewelry, which then ignited the premise. In fact, I was so inspired by that picture and premise that I began to write in a fever and had forty pages—most of which are still in the novel—written in five days—a record for me. The story came out in a younger voice, because the premise that grew in my mind slanted younger. I really had no choice in the matter!

But as with all my work, I had to write an ugly first draft before I understood who my protagonist was, and then I had to “find” her through revision and a lot of effort. In the end, only 12-year-old Kat could have told this particular story.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Charmed Children! What was your process for bringing this turbulent time period to life in the twenty-first century?
Janet: Thank you! I’m thrilled, and so much credit goes to my agent, Erin Murphy, who made me polish to a shine before she subbed, and my incredible editor, Kendra Levin. Once I’d established the premise and the characters, I knew it had the feeling of a story set in another time, a time of turmoil. And by the very nature of the jewelry that inspired the story—a chatelaine*—I felt it had to be set in a castle. I chose the start of World War II because the Blitz would give me a reason to send children away from home and away from helpful adults, and because the war itself provided opportunities for additional threats to them and to those they loved. And, of course, the war was much more strongly felt in the UK than it was here in the US.

The London Blitz aftermath

The London Blitz aftermath

I do love research, and I tend to research a topic as I go. When I’d decided on the UK in 1940, I focused on all the details necessary to bring that time period to life for kids. Specifically, I wanted to focus on spying, because Kat’s father is a spy missing in action.

The main thing about bringing history to life in any book is to focus not on the history but the characters, because it’s the characters that readers relate to. Yes, getting the historical details right is important. But having the characters right is crucial.

Homeless children in London after the Blitz

Homeless children in London after the Blitz

El Space: I agree! How have your travels been a help to you in your writing?
Janet: I’ve been to Scotland three times—the third while the novel was in edits. I think having a feeling for a place is important—the smells and sounds, the food, the weather, the habits—there are so many little things that we take for granted that don’t exist elsewhere and vice versa. How would I know how water is such a factor in Scotland if I hadn’t seen the number of small streams and driven along the coast and hiked in the pouring rain? And I love learning about how other people in the world think and feel. Plus, travel is fun.

El Space: A drafty castle in Scotland is a great setting for a spooky story. But what’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?
Janet: Here’s an interesting tidbit, since readers seem to think this is a pretty scary story: I don’t do scary! I can’t watch scary movies, I don’t visit haunted houses, I avoid dark alleys. When I was a kid, I slept with the lights on and a huge pile of stuffed animals around me, like a fortress. Now, I did once live in a house I’m sure was haunted, and had several haunting experiences there. And the basement of that house gave me the creeps. Needless to say, I spent as little time as possible in that basement. But as to scary places in general? I avoid them!

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

El Space: I do too! I understand you also make jewelry. Please tell us about that.
Janet: I don’t make jewelry as a rule. But I did make some with charms that relate to the novel to give away to readers. Once you have the right tools and the right “ingredients,” jewelry-making is very satisfying and relatively easy. Etsy is a great resource, but I also found things in my local shops. Normally, my relaxing craft of choice is knitting.

I do think doing something with my hands—knitting, jewelry-making, piano playing, whatever—is a great way for me to relax the right brain and let it stew on a thought, and putting the left brain, which demands productivity and is a relentless editor, to sleep.

El Space: If you could recommend any book to your main character, Kat, to keep her encouraged during the time frame of your book, what book would you recommend? Why? What children’s story has been a help to you when you needed to be brave?
Janet: Interesting question! My favorite books, ever, are C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I must have read them a hundred times each when I was young—and even now, for inspiration. I’d definitely recommend them to Kat because they feature children who brave pretty scary things alone and who succeed, even when some of them slip up. And if they’d been available, I’d recommend the Harry Potter books, because, like Kat, Harry faces some awful and even deadly trials, and, like Kat, he’s not perfect and makes mistakes; yet in the end he prevails.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Janet: I have a few things cooking that I’m excited about. First, another middle grade that’s a fantasy but also quite different from Charmed Children. Then a young adult contemporary with magical realism. And I’m playing with a possible sequel to Charmed Children—just for fun, because nothing’s settled there. My agent is also shopping a picture book, and a speculative YA, which you actually saw a bit of in workshop at VCFA! I like to have a bunch of things going at once.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Janet!
Janet: Thank you so much!

*If you want to learn about chatelaines, go here. If you’d like to check out the reviews of this book, go here.

You can catch Janet at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also preorder a copy of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle at these sites:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Country Bookshelf

But one of you will win a preorder of Janet’s book from Country Bookshelf, plus some sweet swag. Comment below to be entered into the drawing. You might tell us a book that helped you when you needed to be brave. The winner will be announced on February 8.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of Janet Fox. Other book covers from Goodreads. London blitz photo from peanutonthetable.com. Children after the Blitz photo and caption from Wikipedia. Eilean Donan Castle from worldfortravel.com.

Check This Out: Skyscraping

If you were around the blog last year, you’ll remember the cover reveal for Skyscraping, the young adult verse novel by yet another friend and classmate: the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Well, Skyscraping, published by Philomel/Penguin, launched into the world on June 2. And Cordelia is here to talk about it.

9780803739260_NearlyGone_JKT.indd  CordeliaJensenAuthorPhoto

Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. Want to read a synopsis of Skyscraping? Sure you do. Click here.

El Space: Congratulations on the outstanding reviews you received for Skyscraping. Well deserved! I find it interesting that in Spanish mira means “look” and the book centers around something Mira [the narrator] saw. Was the name choice deliberate?
Cordelia: Well, in a way. I like that Mira sounds like mirror and that she is reflective as a person. And that there are a lot of reflection images in the book and, personally, that the story is sort of a distorted reflection of my own life. Her name used to be Lia, which was a part of my name CordeLIA. All the characters were named from parts of actual names of my family members. But somewhere in the revision, my editor suggested I change everyone’s names so I would have an easier time separating story from reality and, therefore, able to make more objective revisions.

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Cordelia’s June 6 book launch party at Mt. Airy Read & Eat in Philadelphia. Bandage on hand courtesy of a badminton accident. (Photos by I. W. Gregorio.)

I quickly chose Miranda as the name for the main character because my mom almost named me that. I also like that Miranda, like Cordelia, is a Shakespearean name. It is from The Tempest, which involves a charged father-daughter relationship as Cordelia has with her father in King Lear.

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My sister suggested Mira as a nickname, which I liked when I found out its meaning, which in English is “wonder.” This works thematically with the journey quality of the story. Furthermore, there’s a binary star named Mira, which is just perfect for the identity shifts in the book. For another name example, April used to be Jewel for my sister Julia, but I renamed her April because it means “open,” which is a defining part of that character’s personality.

mira

Mira

El Space: Also interesting is the fact that you mentioned The Odyssey in this book and Mira goes through a difficult odyssey of her own that I don’t want to spoil here. But I’d like to hear about the odyssey of turning what was once a memoir into a fiction story. How were you able to separate your journey from Mira’s?
MQpictureblackshirtCordelia: It was pretty hard to do at certain points. I first began fictionalizing my story under the advisement of the great Mary Quattlebaum [left]. Together, she and I constructed an arc based on some themes I knew I wanted to play around with: trying to stop time, safety/risk, running away/coming home. My talented friend Laurie Morrison actually was the one to suggest I frame the story in a year’s time, which was a huge grounding idea behind the book. It also is how I began to really fictionalize the book, because my own father was HIV positive since 1986 and was really very sick the years 1992-94, whereas Mira’s dad is sick for a relatively short period of time. Condensing the story is how I started to make it its own thing.

IMG_5427Display at Mt. Airy

Throughout VCFA and working with my excellent editor, Liza Kaplan, there were subplots that were cut or added; some characters are quite similar to the actual people, some very different. For example, originally the character of Adam was loosely based on my boyfriend at the time, but he became SO different as the drafts changed. I can’t say more without giving a lot away. BUT that is the beauty of fictionalizing something—you have that ability to have your story take unanticipated directions while maintaining an authentic emotional arc. At different points I had to take out all of the dialogue, cut two secondary characters. I started the whole book over and then in the final revision cut sixty pages from the beginning of the book. The odyssey of the revisions is hard to sum up! There were so many! Fortunately, Liza is so skilled as an editor and the book really is so much better from having made all those changes.

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Mt. Airy photo booth props from the 90s

El Space: Everything really works together! Mira chose the theme of space for the yearbook. And Mira gives herself space from her family and friends, which you show through the spacing used in these poems. How is space—on the page, emotional, or in the astronomical sense—important to you?
Cordelia: Playing with space is an essential component in poetry and in verse novels. Melanie Crowder just wrote a lovely blog post where she interviews many verse novelists on their use of white space. Here’s the link to that: http://cleareyesfullshelves.com/blog/melanie-crowder. I love how a poet can use white space in the way a sculpter uses it or a painter. This is something you really can’t do as much in prose and it adds a whole different layer of emotional depth.

The reason I chose astronomy as the theme for the book was because I actually took an astronomy class senior year. I wrote a few poems, including “Supernova” and “Something Stellar” and understood that it might make sense to write the whole book with this image system.

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Photo at left by Laura Sibson; photo at right by Jane Rosenberg

I think the feeling of being crowded and having no physical space and yet feeling so anonymous, like you have all this emotional distance from those around you, is also how I felt as a kid growing up in NYC. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and unknown. I think Mira—who, unlike me, really loves NYC at the beginning of this book—suddenly notices space, the space up and around her as her life crashes. In the book we are closely connected to her as she reexamines all the spaces around her.

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El Space: How did you come to choose the verse novel format as the vehicle to tell this story?
Cordelia: I showed Coe Booth, my VCFA advisor my first semester, five of my “family poems” as I called them at the time. She loved them and introduced me to the YA verse novel genre. She was the one who suggested I write a memoir in verse. I compiled about sixty of these poems before I made the decision to fictionalize the piece.

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El Space: I’m curious about the phrase let the butterflies into your heart from page 10. Is that your own invention or was that something someone said to you? What does that mean for you now?
Cordelia: It is actually adapted from a line from one of my favorite picture books, If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. I think as someone who is prone towards getting nervous, especially about new things or transitions, it is a saying I hold on to, so I liked the idea of the dad having that advice for his kids.

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El Space: Looking at two lines from your book—In just two days / we launch—I can’t help wondering what launched you into young adult books. You went to Vermont College of Fine Arts. But what made you choose writing for children and young adults?
Cordelia: I actually don’t think I would’ve gone to get my MFA in anything else. I already had a Master’s in Education in Counseling and I didn’t think I would get another Master’s. However, I had recently written a Middle Grade camp novel manuscript after being a camp counselor for eleven summers. Around that time I was standing in my kitchen with my author friend Dan Torday and he mentioned the MFA program at VCFA and I was like, “WHAT??? You can go to school to write for kids and teens?” My heart started racing and I applied that night. I love working with kids of any age and it is really the only population I am interested in writing for. Though of course that might change someday.

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Daniel Torday, author of The Last Flight of Poxl West and head of the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College (where Cordelia teaches), introduces Cordelia.

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More photo booth props

El Space: Which authors inspired you when you were a teen? How do you, in turn, inspire the young authors you meet in your workshops?
Cordelia: I loved e.e. cummings’s poems when I was a teen. He taught me how you can play with words and still write “serious poetry.” I also loved the beautiful, sad, and haunting books by Pat Conroy. Loved that Southern drama! I was always into the family saga like The Thorn Birds and I, Claudius. It didn’t matter the decade as long as it was essentially a soap opera. I liked escaping into other complicated worlds.

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In terms of being a creative writing teacher, I hope I inspire my students to experiment with language and character, to let go of self-consciousness and just write. But really what I’m most interested in—and maybe this comes from my counseling background—is building confidence. I love giving caring feedback to young writers, pointing out their strengths and areas to work on. I also LOVE making up writing games and exercises. I do this with students—both young and undergrads—a lot.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Cordelia: I have two other manuscripts that are done—one a verse novel and another that is more of a mystery. The one I am working on now is sort of a ghost story/historical fiction. For the first time, I am trying to go slower with my first draft—doing lots of free writing in a notebook on the side. I also love writing picture books. I have a bunch of those that I work on sometimes.

El Space: Thanks, Cordelia, for being such a great guest.
Cordelia: Thanks for having me and being such a great host, Linda!

Searching for Cordelia? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Skyscraping is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Big Blue Marble Bookstore

But I’m giving away some sweet swag that includes a signed copy of Skyscraping.

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Yeah, baby! Comment below to be entered in the drawing! You might share a memory from the 90s, since that is the era of Skyscraping. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Book covers from Goodreads. Skyscraping cover courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Mira photo from xtec.cat. Mt. Airy photos and 90s props by Jane Rosenberg unless otherwise attributed. New York skyline from the 1990s from designsatire.com.

Check This Out: Surviving Santiago

Please join me in welcoming back to the blog my good friend and classmate at VCFA, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. It’s my pleasure to help her celebrate today’s launch of her young adult historical fiction book, Surviving Santiago, published by Running Press Kids/Perseus Books. (Click on the publisher to read a synopsis of this book.)

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Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency. Her publicist just happens to be another classmate of ours: Val Howlett.

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El Space: Happy Launch Day, Lyn! When you wrote Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009), did you envision a sequel to follow? Why or why not?
Lyn: I didn’t expect to write a companion or sequel. Technically, this is a companion rather than a sequel because it has a different protagonist, one who was a major secondary character in the previous book. When I started Gringolandia as a contemporary novel back in 1987, I saw it as a stand-alone. Then, when it lost a contract with a major publisher and I couldn’t find another editor to take it on, I didn’t think I’d get one book out of all my work, much less two.

Over the next fifteen years, I’d occasionally return to the shelved manuscript, rewriting it from different characters’ perspectives because I loved the story and characters so much and couldn’t bear to let them go forever. However, Tina was never one of the characters I chose. For serious Gringolandia fans who want to know, the characters tapped to tell parts of the story over the years were Daniel, Courtney, Papá, Mamá, and one of the solidarity committee members from Chile, Patricio Wheelock.

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In Gringolandia, Tina appears as more of a victim of her family’s turmoil, struggling with her own problems. Had I written her story, it would have become the focus. I think that’s one of the reasons my late editor at Curbstone Press, Sandy Taylor, suggested I write an entirely different novel from Tina’s point of view. He wanted to know what happened to her. Over the years, Gringolandia readers asked the same thing, and that’s why I wrote the initial draft of Surviving Santiago and kept working on it even after my editor had passed and my publisher had gone out of business.

El Space: Please walk us through the development of your character, Tina Aguilar. What traits, if any, do you share?
Lyn: Unlike her older brother, Tina never knew what it was like to live in Chile under democracy. She was born in June 1973, at a tumultuous time three months before the military coup. There were strikes, food shortages, and continuous demonstrations on both sides that sometimes led to violent confrontations. After the coup, her father, like many other supporters of the previous government, was detained for a few months—she was an infant then—and after that he went from being a sports journalist to a taxi driver who practiced his real profession underground. So insecurity and fear were in the air even though she remembers her childhood before her father’s lengthy imprisonment as an idyllic time. Along with losing her father, though, she lost her home, her country, and her language, and when she saw her father for the few months after his release, it was yet one more traumatic experience.

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Like me, Tina has a lot of difficulty adjusting to change. Her problems, though, are due more to trauma and growing up with a lot of stress and insecurity that I didn’t experience in my own childhood—though being on the autism spectrum and not knowing why one is different and/or struggles with social relationships creates stress of its own.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Lyn: The hardest part was getting inside the head of Frankie, Tina’s Chilean boyfriend. While he’s not the protagonist, he has needs and desires, and his relationship with Tina changes him as well as her. I needed to know him well to make him a convincing character, but while I knew a lot of immigrants to the United States from Chile, I didn’t know any teenagers personally who’d never left the country and thus spent their entire lives under dictatorship.

El Space: What excites you about historical fiction and this time period in particular?
Lyn: I like the world-building aspects, using my research and writing skills to recreate a different time and place. In terms of world building, historical fiction is a lot like speculative fiction because you’re taking the reader somewhere else and hopefully making it worth the trip. Historical fiction also allows readers to see history from the eyes of ordinary people who generally don’t make it into textbooks, except, perhaps as statistics.

I grew up with the us-versus-them mentality of the Cold War, and learning that the United States installed and maintained regimes as oppressive as those of the Soviet Bloc was eye-opening and disturbing. And while a growing number of authors are writing books about the Cold War era in the United States—Deborah Wiles and her award-winning linked titles Countdown and Revolution come to mind—and some have written about the Castro regime in Cuba and life behind the Iron Curtain, very few books have addressed the experiences of people living under repressive anti-Communist regimes.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will glean from this story?
Lyn: Violence flourishes when we cease to see our neighbor as a human being just like ourselves because of politics, religion, race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation/gender identity. And sometimes we get so wrapped up in our us-versus-them patterns of thinking that it takes an outsider—someone like Tina—to point out the truth. Most teenagers feel like outsiders, but they also have fresh perspectives that deserve consideration. I hope Surviving Santiago inspires teenagers to speak out when they see hatred and injustice directed against anyone.

El Space: Which authors inspired you on the journey to making this book happen?
Lyn: I’m a fan of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, and a central element of his novel Distant Star (New Directions, 2005) appears in Surviving Santiago. I also want to let people know about two outstanding works for middle grade readers that depict violence by the U.S.-supported military government in Guatemala during the Cold War—Marge Pellegrino’s Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Skila Brown’s Caminar (Candlewick, 2014).

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El Space: How would you encourage an author to write historical fiction and make it relevant for a teen audience?
Lyn: Like the popular genre of speculative fiction, historical fiction sets the reader in a different world and addresses big themes. Too often, though, readers have been turned off because the author’s extensive research shows through. For my own writing, I read a lot of dystopian fiction and try to capture that vibe in Surviving Santiago, which is set in a very real dystopia. We history buffs enjoy sifting through minutiae, but more than a little to provide the atmosphere and world building bogs the story down and contributes to the reputation of historical fiction as boring and too much like school. Surviving Santiago is above all an innocent romance that turns very dangerous very quickly because Tina is unaware of the depth of hatred in the society. It’s a story that could happen anywhere—past, present, or future—and I tried to put in enough detail to make it tangible and interesting without slowing down the action.

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Surviving Santiago can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Surviving Santiago. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Happy Launch Day also to another classmate of mine, Cordelia Jensen, whose novel in verse, Skyscraping, debuts today. She’ll be here June 8 to talk about her book! Stay tuned!

Book covers from Goodreads. Book birthday sign from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Map from platoslatinos.net.

The Stanton Effect: Take the Reader Somewhere Worthwhile

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiLyn Miller-Lachmann is no stranger to El Space. She’s been a welcome guest here many times, especially when she has a new young adult novel to discuss. Like here. She also has her own blog here. Today, I’m thrilled to present her guest post for the Stanton series. At the end of the post, I’ll announce the winner of Amy Rose Capetta’s book, Unmade. But first, let’s hear from Lyn.

Thank you to the awesome L. Marie for inviting me to be part of this series. When I listened to Andrew Stanton’s TED talk, the point that stuck with me was, “Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.”

One of the moments that inspired me to take writing seriously enough to seek publication occurred in my first year teaching in Brooklyn, New York. My school was in a historic building that over years of deferred maintenance had become quite dilapidated, to the point that the third floor teacher’s lounge was a glorified broom closet with mouse droppings between the floorboards and plaster flaking from the ceiling. I had brought a collection of short stories to read during my free period, and as I read a story by Joan Silber, I no longer sat in this grim teacher’s lounge but in a kudzu-filled garden somewhere in the Deep South—a place I had never physically been.

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Most of us can’t pick up and go wherever we want, whenever we want. But stories can take us to those places and make us feel as if we are there. Whether it’s the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, a world long gone, or a world that has never existed, effective stories make us believe we are part of that world. Stories transport us from our ordinary lives into a grander and more beautiful place. Or into a more exciting and dangerous place where we would never choose to venture on our own because we have families and school and jobs and responsibilities.

The advice, “Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile,” certainly informed my forthcoming novel, Surviving Santiago (Running Press Kids, debuting in June 2015). I traveled to Chile in 1990 to witness the transition from a brutal 17-year-dictatorship to a democratic government. I saw the excitement of people enjoying their hard-won freedom while nursing wounds that had not healed. At times I was scared; at times I was awestruck; at times I was humbled. I crossed into an unfamiliar culture and heard stories of struggle, sacrifice, and courage that would have pushed me beyond my own capacities had I lived through those times.

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Lyn in 1990 (left); the cover of her forthcoming novel

Stories are ideal for crossing borders of all kinds and opening up a world of people, places, and experiences. This is what I seek to do with my writing, most of which is historical fiction set in diverse countries and cultures. It’s a challenge to evoke a setting well enough that readers can see themselves within it and appreciate having made the journey with me. And if they book a flight to Chile after finishing Surviving Santiago, I know for sure I’ve convinced them that it’s worth the trip!

Thanks, again, Lyn, for a great addition to the series. The other posts in the series are here, here, here, and here.

And now to announce the winner of Amy Rose Capetta’s young adult novel, Unmade.

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The winner, thanks to the random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles. Please confirm below. Thanks again for commenting!