My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Bound

Thanks for dropping by. Today on the blog is the awesome and effervescent Kate Sparkes, blogger extraordinaire, dragon enthusiast, and the author of Bound, which was featured here as a cover reveal. Bound, the first book of a trilogy, was released on June 26. Huzzah! (Click on the cover reveal link if you’d like to read a synopsis of Bound.) To celebrate the release, I’m hosting a giveaway of this very book, which I’ll discuss after I finish talking to Kate. So grab a beverage of choice and make yourself comfortable.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I won a writing award in kindergarten for the story, “Ons eponatim ser wsa hws wsa trebesidit.” (That was the whole story. It was accompanied by a lovely painting.) (2) I firmly believe that one can never own too many beautiful socks. My wish list is massive. (3) When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pony when I grew up (it didn’t work out). (4) I’m fine with spiders, but terrified of house/basement centipedes.

MM-101-eyeltsockEl Space: Congrats on that kindergarten award! 😀 So, which of the characters in Bound would you say is most like you? Different from you? Why?
Kate: That depends a lot on what kind of day I’m having. Most of the time, Rowan is probably the most similar. We both have a curious streak that runs deep enough to cause trouble, though she takes more risks than I do when she’s looking for adventure. She’s compassionate, but a wee bit selfish. I have a lot of those moments. Least like me would be Severn, I hope. I don’t think I’d ever hurt people to further my own cause or ambitions. Also, I’m really bad with fire.
El Space: If I could interview Rowan, what do you think she would say about you as her author?
Kate: She’d probably say nicer things about me than Aren would. I doubt either of them would be pleased with everything I’ve put them through, but I think Rowan’s life is better for it. And hey, she’s the one who wanted an adventure. It’s not my fault if things haven’t worked out the way she expected.
El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this series? How long was the writing process for Bound?
Kate: The idea developed over the course of a few years, mostly while I was in bed with migraines and unable to find any other way to entertain myself. I started to wonder what would happen if someone had headaches that were caused by something other than changes in the weather—something like magic, maybe. The next question was, why it would be harmful? . . . No spoilers, but that question led to the creation of Rowan and her people. As for the plot, I wondered what would happen if a nice, normal girl accidentally saved a bad guy’s life and somehow found herself stuck with him. It took a long time for me to figure out the story, but it’s been fun. As for how long it’s taken, I started the first draft in November of 2010, so more than three years. I haven’t always been able to devote much time to writing, but I hope that will change now.
3456b79e23ec6d4ce3c7022902e584dcEl Space: If you lived in the world you created, to which people group would you belong? I ask this, because I’d totally be one of the merfolk.
Kate: I wish I could say the merfolk! They’re so lovely and mysterious, and I do enjoy the water. Maybe a cave fairy? Kind of chubby, sleeps a lot. I’m far less fuzzy than they are, though. No, I think I’d be a human. I hope I’d be a sorceress, but only if I get to choose where I live. I don’t suppose I’d last long in Rowan’s country or Aren’s family.

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A cave fairy of a sort from the Fairy Cave in Bau, Sarawak

El Space: What attracted you to fantasy? What gets you pump up about this genre?
Kate: I’ve been addicted to fairy tales for longer than I can remember. I once cried when I thought I was getting too old for them. My mom had to sit me down and explain that as I got older I could read more books, but that didn’t mean leaving behind the stories I loved. I still love them, and the sense of wonder and possibility that they always leave me with. I get the same experience with fantasy books. Anything is possible, and as readers or writers we get to explore human experiences in extraordinary worlds. Actually, I find many “real world” books rather dull in comparison. I like to read about places and characters that stretch my imagination beyond what’s possible here.

76897El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Kate: C. S. Lewis. Stephen King. L. M. Montgomery. Jacqueline Carey. J. K. Rowling. Sarah J. Maas. John Steinbeck. Tiffany Reisz. Robertson Davies. Tina Fey. Actually, anyone who has ever written a book that made me think, “I want to do that. I want to make people feel like this.” That list is too long to type out here.

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El Space: What aspects of writing did you find most challenging?
Kate: My greatest challenge in writing is usually getting the first draft out. Revisions are hard, but at least I can see the whole picture and know what needs to be done. First drafts feel like slow going, and I need momentum to motivate me. Letting people see the work and learning to take criticism was (and is) also hard, but so worth it.
El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write fantasy books?
Kate: Know your magic system before you write. Know the rules, have firm limitations, and make sure you stay within the boundaries you set. If you leave things too loose or have limitations but don’t explain them well enough, your editor will slap your hands for it. *Ahem*
El Space: Hee hee! What writing project are you working on now?
Kate: Right now my focus is on revising the sequel to Bound, which I hope to have out next winter. I’m quite excited about where the story is going. The trick right now is to make sure that I’m doing the story justice by telling it in the best way possible.

Glad you came on the blog today, Kate! And keep a weather eye out for dragons!

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If you’re looking for Kate, look no further than her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Bound is available here:

Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Kobo
Barnes & Noble 

But two of you will win a copy of this book! Comment below to be included in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, July 9.

Cover design by Ravven (www.ravven.com). Author photo by A. J. Sparkes. Book covers other than Boundfrom Goodreads. Merman image from scenicreflections.com. Dragon from en.gtwallpaper.com. Sock from straw.com. Cave fairy statue from bestkuchinghotels.com.

A Writer’s Process 8(b)

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The marvelous Melanie Fishbane and I are back. And so are you! Great! Let’s get this party started! But first: If you’re brand-new to the blog, you may wish to know that this is part 2 of the interview. You can jump over to part 1 here and get acquainted with Melanie’s work in progress. (Or, if you’re like Kay Thompson’s irrepressible character, Eloise, you can skibble over to part 1.)

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El Space: Aside from your work in progress, you’re working on some academic papers. Please tell us about those and how you came to write them.
Melanie: I love breaking things down and analyzing them, because it is a way for me to have a conversation with myself about what I’m thinking. Essays (and answering questions for a blog post) are a great way to do that!

I returned to essay writing in 2008, when I was inspired by the way teens were responding to Edward Cullen (Twilight), Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), and Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables) online. I considered how there was a similarity in the way that these characters were constructed that made teens fall in love with them and then wondered about my own literary loves—Gilbert Blythe and Almanzo Wilder in case you were interested.

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Almanzo Wilder

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Gilbert Blythe

El Space: I am! Mainly because I’m nosy.
Melanie: Well, in that case, you should check out this blog post where I talk about it.

El Space: Read it! Great post.
Melanie: I’ve been working on the Perfect Man Archetype for about four years now (it was my critical thesis) and hope to put my literary findings into a book one day.

El Space: I’d love to read that! And I could say something about finding the Perfect Man in general, but let’s move on!
Melanie: YA is having such an interesting growth and I think by tapping into this archetype, I’ve been able to connect to our literary heritage.

The other essay I’m working on is how L. M. Montgomery used writing to help her deal with loss, specifically what I see as her grief narratives: Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted. I came to this, because I wanted to explore how Montgomery wrote about grieving and the process of grieving.

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El Space: How do both worlds—your academic subjects and your novel—meet?
Melanie: Well, for the Perfect Man Archetype I’ve been able to look at how I construct the love interests in my novels and how I might subvert them. I want to create characters that I hope my readers will fall in love with, but will also, hopefully, surprise them.

montgomery_rilla_hcFor the Montgomery essay on grieving, I came to this because my novel is also a grief narrative, as my protagonist is recovering from the sudden death of her father and I hoped to gain insight into how to write this with authenticity.

 El Space: If you were to write an academic paper on a current heroine, not including your own, who would you choose? Why?
Melanie: Good question! You know, I don’t know. The first character that came to mind was Katniss from The Hunger Games, mostly because she has inspired a stream of strong willed, hurt, emotionally detached characters in YA. I wonder if maybe it is because I remember being so emotional as a teen but don’t think that I even understood what was going on or why I felt the way that I did. In a way, that is being disconnected, going into the head, not the heart. Come to think of it, my novel deals with this a bit, too.

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El Space: What advice would you give to a teen about writing?
Melanie: Write things that inspire you and don’t worry about being bad. You will be, but that is okay. I would also suggest keeping a journal, because it will allow you to safely work with your own story and emotions. Then if you see a writing workshop at your local library, take it. And don’t take the feedback too personally; you aren’t a bad person or a bad writer if the sentence is bad; it is just that the sentence is bad and that can be fixed. I wish someone had told me that as a teenager. I might not have waited ten years to go back to writing fiction and poetry.

Wow! Thanks, Melanie, for being such a great guest. (She also picks up after herself and doesn’t leave coffee mug rings on the table. Nice.)

And thank you for stopping by. If you have questions for Melanie, you know what to do! Please comment below!

Eloise illustration by Hilary Knight found at truetostyle.com. Gilbert Blythe photo from sjaejones.com. Almanzo Wilder photo from Wikipedia. Rilla of Ingleside cover from lmmresearchgroup.org. Other book covers from Goodreads.com. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss photo found at graphic-engine.swarthmore.edu.

A Writer’s Process 8(a)

I hope you’re in a cozy spot, because here today and tomorrow is the marvelous Melanie Fishbane. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll already know the place Melanie and I have in common. So, feel free to avert your eyes while I tell the new players on the team the name of that place. Ready? Avert your eyes NOW: Vermont College of Fine Arts. LOOK HERE!

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You might know Melanie from her blog: Wild About Words. If you’re not familiar with her blog, please make yourself acquainted with it. We’ll talk amongst ourselves until you return.

El Space: Glad to have you here today. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Melanie: I have competing literary obsessions that vie for my attention constantly and are jealous if I ignore them too long. Most people have one, I have two: Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery. I have been playing the piano since I was 11 and before that, the accordion. I used to live in Montreal. I’ve been working in the book industry for over sixteen years.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Lucy Maud Montgomery

El Space: Sixteen years? Wow! And great authors to obsess over. A couple of days ago, a friend told me she was reading the Little House on the Prairie books to her kids. I hope they’ll also read Anne of Green Gables someday. Now, let’s talk about your work in progress. Please give us a brief synopsis of your work in progress.
Melanie: My current WIP is a YA novel called It’s all Ancient History: Or, Oy! A Family Drama—I nicknamed it Oy!—and revolves around a seventeen-year-old girl who is attending her aunt’s wedding when something happens that pushes her to reassess the kind of person she wants to be. Will she be a participant or the observer in her own life? Intermingled is the idea of the pull of one’s family history, Jewish mysticism, a Celtic punk band inspired by musical theatre, mistaken identities, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Most of the novel’s action takes place in one night.

El Space: Wow! I’d love to see how you blend these elements. What did you find challenging or exhilarating about writing it? How did your experiences inform the writing?
Melanie: I love the process of writing—finding the right word to say what I mean. That is also the challenge—finding the right word. I like that I can connect characters to their story and it doesn’t make me feel so crazy all of the time, but I can feel perturbed when I hit with a particular plot snag.

I think that I’ve been writing this particular WIP since I was a kid. There are elements that made its way into this novel that I never thought that I would ever write about, but are there. I write from what I know and how I felt about things as a teenager. There were questions about life and the universe then that I still ponder, and those questions made their way into the narrative.

El Space: Why magical realism?
Melanie: I find that it frees me up more than the world building that characterizes science fiction and fantasy. I still had to build my world, but the fantasy rules and elements could be more fluid because I want the reader to make connections for themselves. There are elements that could be real and hint that it might be so, but it will be up to the reader to decide on the story’s magical truth. When I look back on my personal story, I can see connections and links that have a truth for me based on my experience. I’ve done a lot of reading on astrology, religion, history, and studied alternative healing. For me, magical realism allows me to experiment with the many aspects of these things that I think are interesting.

El Space: What books have you read recently that inspire you as a writer?
Melanie: For an essay that I’ve been working on about L. M. Montgomery, I’ve been reading some books and essays on how writers such as Margaret Laurence, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare used their grief in their writing. Two were excellent: Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving by Keverne Smith and Christian Riegel’s Writing Grief: Margaret Laurence and the Work of Mourning.

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I’m interested in how other writers have tapped into their emotional turmoil to write their stories. Learning about how these authors used their pain and joy to write helps me understand how I use mine.

Some good books that just inspire me to write well because these authors are just on their game: Hélène Boudreau’s I Dare You Not to Yawn, Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina.

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And I see by the old clock on the wall that our time is up for today. But don’t worry. Melanie will be back tomorrow to answer more questions. And maybe she’ll bring donuts. Who knows? In the meantime, if you have questions for Melanie about her process, please comment below. See you tomorrow, same place!

Lucy Maud Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder photos from Wikipedia. Book covers from Goodreads.com.