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.

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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.

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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

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and Heading North by Andy Murray.

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The winner of All We Left Behind is

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

Check This Out: All We Left Behind

022Welcome back to Snow Country (how appropriate with the WordPress snow). Glad you’re here to join me in welcoming to the blog the fabulous Ingrid Sundberg. Her YA novel, All We Left Behind, debuted on December 1, thanks to the publisher—Simon Pulse.

ALLWELEFTBEHIND Ingrid Sundberg Author Photo

Ingrid’s agent is Melissa Sarver White at Folio. For a synopsis of All We Left Behind, click on the publisher above. Now let’s talk to Ingrid!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Ingrid: 1. My natural hair color is light brown.
2. I wore fairy wings at my wedding.
3. I love mint chip ice cream.
4. I grew up in the land of snow and lobsters: Maine.

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El Space: What inspired you to write All We Left Behind? It’s very intense. I can’t help thinking about the quote by Akira Kurosawa on your blog: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” Why is that important to you?
Ingrid: The Akira Kurosawa quote is one of my favorites, because I didn’t “crack the nut” of this book until I was willing to really look at the dark parts of this story. It finally broke open when I was willing to honestly see what Marion and Kurt needed and put my personal discomfort and authorial agenda aside. It’s so easy to pretty things up and not “go there.” But when we avert our eyes, we’re protecting ourselves, rather than looking at the truth.

All We Left Behind is the result of an abandoned screenplay, and an abandoned novel. I lifted the characters from those previous projects and started over. The common link that inspired all of them is Marion’s attempt to navigate her sexual awakening in a culture that views sex in such extremes. Be sexy, but don’t be a slut. Sex is taboo, but it’s also where girls are told to find their worth. Sex is the most intimate experience you can share with someone, but treat it like it’s completely worthless and casual. Those contrasts are fascinating, but they’re also real obstacles that girls have to face today.

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El Space: All of your characters are very memorable and vivid. How did you come to create your point of view characters—Kurt and Marion?
Ingrid: Kurt came about as an exercise at Vermont College. In an early draft of this book Kurt was a throw-away character that dumped Marion and then disappeared. As an exercise, my adviser had me write my scenes from the POV of the other characters—not my protagonist. This was really difficult. I realized Kurt was this paper-thin character I was using as a chess piece for my plot. Once I had to develop him into a real person, he came alive. He was so vivid and compelling that I couldn’t stop writing in his voice. He took the book in a whole new direction. A better direction! It was awesome.

Marion on the other hand has been with me for over 10 years. She was the center of a previous screenplay and novel. I’ve spent draft after draft, new direction after new direction, trying to figure out how to write her story and do it justice. She’s haunted me. I’m so happy I finally found the story she wanted me to tell.

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El Space: Music plays an important role in this story. What was on your playlist as you wrote this book?
Ingrid: This is going to come as a surprise, but I can’t listen to music when I write. I find it really distracting. Thus, there’s no playlist for this book. In fact, I had to poll my friends to come up with songs my characters would talk about in the book. I’m not a music person at all! I spent three days listening to all the songs my friends suggested on YouTube so I could figure out what Kurt and his mom would be into.

A couple of my favorites were (1) “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake—this is the type of song I see Kurt playing with his mom—(2) “Drifting” by Andy McKee. Watch this YouTube video and you’ll be mesmerized by the physical way Andy McKee plays the guitar. This is how I imagine Kurt’s mom playing her instrument. There’s a little bit of genius and escape in the way she plays.

El Space: You mentioned some characters from fairy tales in the story. How did these familiar stories influence your writing?
Ingrid: I feel like fairy tales create a “dream” for young people, and girls in particular. We’re told that we will one day meet our charming prince and magically live happily ever after. That story is reinforced over and over again in media. In a way, we start to feel entitled to that dream. And then we feel betrayed or like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t find our prince.

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This really shows the power of storytelling. How many of us believe that hard work will pay off in the end, or that love will conquer all? But is any of that really true? Or is it a story we’ve heard in books and television? I find I’m interested in the juxtaposition of fairytale themes against the harsh reality of the world we live in.

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El Space: A controversial Bustle article gave seven reasons for writing a YA novel. I won’t ask you for seven. But I’d like to know how you came to write for young adults.
Ingrid: I definitely didn’t write a novel I could buy the perfect shoe/dress combo for my book launch on Saturday, Dec 5th (as implied by reason #7 in that article). In fact . . . I have no idea what I will wear.

I actually started out writing dramatic screenplays when I was getting my MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. One of my first screenplays was a college drama called Virgin, and that screenplay was the seed for All We Left Behind. The character of Marion was the star of that film. The path to YA came from learning that Marion’s story was extremely internal and thus hard to communicate visually as a film. We often complain that a movie isn’t as good as the book, but we forget that movies are a very specific form of storytelling that simply can’t communicate in the same way as a novel.

Once I discovered the story was too internal for a film, I switched to novel writing. Hence the second MFA in novel writing from Vermont College. Novels are a whole different beast than screenwriting! I also got a lot of feedback that the story’s themes would be better suited in high school than college. So, I made the leap to YA and I love it!

El Space: Which book authors or screenwriters inspire you?
Ingrid: I love that you asked about screenwriters as well as authors! My few of my favorite screenwriters are Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz), Alex Garland (Sunshine; Never Let Me Go), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), and Aaron Sorkin (West Wing; The Social Network). They all have such different voices, but you can really “feel” their voice in a film.

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Sarah Polley and Aaron Sorkin

I’m also really inspired by authors who take risks or are masters of language. The ones that jump to mind are Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeanette Winterson, and Beth Kephart. They all make me fall in love with words over and over again.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Ingrid: I’m working on a few different projects, but none of them are fully formed enough to say exactly what they are. I’ve got a Peter Pan project, a fantasy concept about Greek Muses, and a summer romance with lots of kissing! I don’t really like defining my novels before I know what they are. I’d hate to tell my readers I’m working on XYZ, only to later tell them that project died in the beautiful flames of revision. 🙂

El Space: Thanks Ingrid for being my guest!

Ingrid: Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast!

Looking for Ingrid? Look here:
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Pinterest
Website

All We Left Behind is available here:
IndieBound
Amazon
B&N
Book Depository

But comment below to be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of All We Left Behind. Because I will feature another book giveaway this month, I will announce the winner of both books on December 14.

Book covers courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg and Goodreads. Prince from ebay.com. Maine map from ezilon.com. Sarah Polley from imdb.com. Aaron Sorkin from ibtimes.com.

Fractals: The Purpose of the Pattern

Before I get into fractals (and I know you’re holding your breath until I do), let me first announce the winner of the Ice Cream Giveaway discussed in Monday’s post.

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The winner is . . .

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Is . . .

Phillip McCollum!

Congrats, Phillip! Please email me at this address—lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com—to let me know your snail mail address and phone number for package delivery purposes.

Now, about those fractals. . . . For some reason, I woke up the other day thinking of them. This is either because of the large amount of snow my area has received or because I’ve been doing a Lumosity workout every morning.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

A fractal is a mathematical set described by fractal Geometry, the study of figures exhibiting fractal dimension. A fractal set when plotted typically displays self-similar patterns, which means they are “the same from near as from far.” . . . The concept of fractal extends beyond trivial self-similarity and includes the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself. (Emphasis added.)

But I probably didn’t have to tell you that. The Koch snowflake (below), developed by Swedish mathematician Niels Fabian Helge von Koch, is a fractal made of equilateral triangles. Dutch artist M. C. Escher also featured fractals in many of his illustrations.

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Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination. When scenes seem insurmountable, I turn to other activities: games like Plants vs. Zombies, checking email, texting, or reading other people’s blogs. I even sometimes use my Lumosity workout, which takes a few minutes at most, as an excuse. (BTW: Ingrid Sundberg wrote a great post on measuring productivity: http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/keeping-track-of-time/)

So, as I began writing this post, I started to get down on myself about my procrastination. But after thinking about it, I decided to take a radical view and look for what’s positive about this pattern of behavior. No, I’m not crazy. I’m trying to follow the pattern of fractals in nature. If you’ve observed these patterns (snowflakes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), you’ve seen the beauty in them. (BTW: The WebEcoist has beautiful photos of fractals in nature here: http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/)

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Romanesco broccoli—another fractal

So, there had to be something good about my pattern of procrastination. And I discovered just what that something was. You see, I often procrastinate, believe it or not, when I’m going in the wrong direction in my writing. Only, I don’t often know right away that I’m going in the wrong direction. When I approach a scene for which I have no energy and no thoughts about how it could work; when I try to shoehorn a plot point into the narrative, thinking that someone might judge my story as boring without it, I immediately think of other things more enjoyable to do—like playing Plants vs. Zombies. However, when I’m writing a scene for which I have great emotional investment, I usually work on it until it’s done, with no interruptions other than the necessary ones (like going to the bathroom or eating chocolate).

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Case in point: for the last few days I’ve been going in circles about adding to my novel some chapters involving a side quest. You see, one of my characters is dying at this point in the story. Yet I had great plans of writing a couple of chapters in which the dying character’s companions explore a beautiful cavern and make a discovery about their people. But I couldn’t make much progress on the chapters, even after free writing and brainstorming. I found myself going back to Plants vs. Zombies out of frustration. A vicious cycle? I’d like to think of it as an opportunity for reflection. Why did I pick up that game again and again? Because it’s fun and fast paced. Note the words fast paced.

After reading a post at Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog (“Distractions from the Plot or Character Building?”), I determined that the proposed chapters are probably a distraction. I asked myself: If a character in this scene is dying, why would his companions take the time to explore a cavern? Shouldn’t they continue their search for help for the dying person as quickly as possible? After all, that’s the ticking clock element. By trying to squeeze in this side trek, I had inadvertently sabotaged the pacing of the story by decreasing the tension. And I learned that through procrastination.

Now, I’m not justifying a habit of procrastination. We all know its negatives. None are more apparent than in my life. But sometimes, you have to look for patterns and what they tell you. There may be a purpose to that pattern, if you’ll take the time to look. Speaking of looking . . .

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Have you thought about what your procrastination might be telling you?

Ice cream image from hfboards.hockeysfuture.com. Koch snowflake and broccoli images from Wikipedia. Wrong way sign from myparkingsign.com. Ninja cat from LOL Cats.

A Writer’s Process (7)

With me today on the blog is the incomparable Ingrid Sundberg, who is—say it with me—another friend from VCFA. You might know her through her blog, Ingrid’s Notes, her website, or Twitter.

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El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Ingrid: I’ve dyed my hair every color of the rainbow and shaved my head once. I love to draw silly monsters, particularly ones with horns and polka-dots. My favorite TV show is Battlestar Galactica. I grew up on an island in Maine.

El Space: Cool! Now, let’s get to your work in progress. A brief synopsis, please.
Ingrid: The Nevers is a YA steampunk reimagining of Peter Pan. There’s no magic, and Peter and Hook are the heads of rival gangs that sell a hallucinogenic drug known as Fairy Dust. Wini Darling, the daughter of a bank mogul, is lured into the whimsical and artistic world of the Nevers, a secret underground artist community, in order to help her drug-addicted brother who’s been captured by pirates. Only it’s not so easy to find her brother and leave the Nevers as she thinks.

Wini finds herself intoxicated by the no-rules artist culture of the Nevers and simultaneously mixed up in a street war between the pirates and the Lost Boys. And then there’s that thrill-seeking, drunk-on-life Peter fellow who’s got one hell of a sweet spot for Wini Darling. Sometimes, not growing up can be a dangerous adventure.

El Space: Wow! Sounds awesome! What’s challenging or exhilarating about working on this story?
Ingrid: It’s really exciting to work with pre-existing material. I get to reinterpret Peter Pan with the themes that excite me. I’ve also been having lots of fun thinking up creative ways to reference the original story while still inventing my own world. There’s a great creative energy in this process. Of course, staying too true to the original material can also be a trap. I’ve had to keep giving myself permission to deviate from the original story when I need to.

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The biggest challenge for me is world building, and the sheer size of this project. In the past I’ve written small, intimate contemporary stories. Suddenly, I have a whole world to invent, rules and politics to create, and an ensemble of over a dozen characters to develop. Dang!

El Space: A great challenge. You’re an author-illustrator-screenwriter. How does your novel reflect your cinematic experience?
Ingrid: I enter all of my stories visually. I see images before I see whole scenes. Those can be anything from a wisp of hair to a dramatic landscape. I always have to start with that image and then look around and see where I am and who’s in the scene.

Imagery has also really helped with world building. I have a huge photo file for this book and have been creating character and setting collages. These help me to imagine costumes, character traits, and details in a setting.

It’s interesting to see how characters will have a color palette, or how specific details will tell me about their moods. I’ve even begun to create image systems and metaphor motifs based on these collages. I have a whole secret Pinterest page dedicated to this with 35 different boards.

Here’s an example of some of my collages:

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The Jolly Roger

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Mermaids

Lagoon_Collage 1

Lagoon

El Space: They’re gorgeous! What other tools were helpful as you determined the scope of your world?
Ingrid: In The Anatomy of Story, John Truby talks about having a single arena for your story. He says that the smaller your arena, the stronger the story will be, because it will have a single “unity of place.” It turns out my book has two arenas, but they’re linked together because one hides within the other. So it’s helped me to think about developing those two arenas to their full potential and not venturing outside of them.

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The other idea that I’ve thought about lately is the metaphorical meaning and thematic significance of each arena. For example, Neverland is supposed to be an imaginary utopia of playfulness and wonder. It’s an island that separates itself from the real world and is outside of time. So I’ve been asking myself how I will design a landscape that enhances the wonder and keeps that magical sense of exclusivity. Meanwhile, I have to contrast that with the tick-tock of the “real world” that is inevitably heading towards old age and death.

El Space: What books have you read recently with impressive world building?
Ingrid: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor blew me away with its world building. Everything was very specific and it had a history.

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It didn’t feel like it stood on the shoulders of what others had previously invented. It had a unique and compelling world of its own. It had depth and weight to it. Every detail seemed intricately woven into the whole. I saw Laini Taylor speak about this book at a signing and she mentioned that she read a lot of folklore while writing the book. She said that every culture invents its own folklore, and you can tell a lot about a culture’s values by the stories they tell themselves. Plus, Laini Taylor has pink hair, so she must be brilliant!

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El Space: I think so too! So, what excites you about the steampunk genre?
Ingrid: Honestly, I don’t know a lot about steampunk. I’m learning as I go. But I think I’m visually excited about a steampunk world. I’m obsessed with the textures of it. I love the precision of intricately woven clockwork, or the allure of emerald-colored goggles. Oh, and the fashion! Can you really get enough of velvet top hats and triple-buckled boots? This world is a smorgasbord of delicious imagery that allows me to really play with language!

El Space: Love the fashions! Now, what’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Ingrid: I often get overwhelmed by the scope of this project. The best advice I got recently was to imagine a picture frame, and to only look at what’s inside that frame. Forget about the rest of the world. Focus on what I can see inside that small box of space. Write about that. Then look in a new picture frame and write about that. It’s really helped me to focus on small pieces, which amazingly seem to find their own way of linking together.

Thanks, Ingrid, for sharing your process and your collages. If you have questions for Ingrid, you know what to do: please comment below!

Laini Taylor author photo, book cover, and Peter Pan cover from Goodreads. Truby cover from macmillan.com. All other photos are courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg.