The Gift of Story


When I was a kid, I learned to value stories. My parents read books to me at bedtime, which made me want to read stories for myself. Many of the stories they read were fairy tales or fantastical adventures written by Dr Seuss. As soon as I learned to read, I read just about everything—fiction and nonfiction. I had (and still have) an insatiable curiosity for the stories of others. Sharing stories is the main reason why I love to give books away.

  

I love being taken on an adventure through the pages of a book. So many aspects of life are stressful these days, so I value more and more the stories I read and the characters I grow to care about. My favorite time of day is the time I can spend with a book, watching the workaday world fade away beyond the edges of the pages in front of me.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the books for the Christmas giveaways, which were announced in this post and this one:

The winner of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries is Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Up for Air is Laura Bruno Lilly!


The winner of The Art of Breaking Things Is Nicki!


The winner of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is Marian!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Happy reading! And thank you to all who commented!

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Books covers (with the exception of those being given away) from Goodreads.

Deck the Halls for 2019

Back when I was in grad school (VCFA), each new class had the assignment of choosing a class name. Usually these names had something to do with books or writing. My class chose the Secret Gardeners based on the book The Secret Garden.

With that being said, this is the second of two holiday season book giveaways (the first described in this post), this time featuring three more awesome Secret Gardener classmates: Laurie Morrison, Laura Sibson, and Nicole Valentine, all of whom stopped by for a brief chat today. Though they appeared on the blog here, here, and here to discuss their novels, and copies were given away before, another copy of each book will be given away this time. ’Tis the season!

 

 

   

Click here for the synopsis for Up for Air.
Click here for the synopsis for The Art of Breaking Things.
Click here for the synopsis for A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.

El Space: What’s the best Christmas gift you received when you were a kid? Why was it special for you?

Laurie: The best Christmas gift I ever got was kittens! When I was eight or nine, my parents brought home two tiny, adorable kittens. My brothers and I were completely surprised. We had no idea our parents were even considering getting pets even though we had asked. We loved figuring out names for them—we went with Christmas and Mistletoe and called them Chrissy and Missy for short—and holding them. One of them disappeared on Christmas Day, and it turned out she was hiding in a tiny space between a piece of furniture and the wall. So that was an adventure! But it was just such a joy to have such a surprise and to feel grown up and responsible as I helped take care of them.

Laura: I have a photo from my sixth Christmas. In it, I am seated on a brand new bike while wearing a fancy bathrobe fit for a princess. I also have a huge grin on my face. This Christmas photo perfectly captures the two sides of me—the girl excited for her first two-wheel bike and the girl who daydreamed about magic and medieval kingdoms.

Nicole: I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but there was one Christmas where my best friend and I thought it would be excellent fun to sneak around our houses and find the hidden presents before the big day. And it was fun! It was the closest thing to a real live treasure hunt a kid could have in 1980-something. However, it soon became painfully obvious to us both that when Christmas morning came we wouldn’t be surprised. I stayed silent and told my parents nothing, but with each passing day I became more disappointed in myself. And then, on Christmas morning there was one extra present under the tree that I had not seen before. It was a small child’s sewing kit and it wasn’t something that I had even asked for, but right then it seemed like the greatest gift in the whole world. The tag said To Nicole, Love Santa in some very familiar cursive handwriting. I still don’t know if my mother saw the telltale signs of our snooping, but I am forever thankful for that sewing kit.

Thank you, Laurie, Laura, and Nicole for stopping by!

What’s the best gift (holiday or otherwise) you received when you were a kid? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. There will be three winners for this giveaway. Each winner will receive one of the above books. Winners of both giveaways to be announced on December 20, 2019.

Henry is pleased with his tree decorating. But the snowman, who is a stickler for correct spelling, thinks an adjustment needs to be made.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photos and covers courtesy of the authors. The Secret Garden cover from Goodreads. Fairy tale castle from clipartpanda. Kittens from the SF SPCA. Sewing kit from dreamstime. Other photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awe-inspiring Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her debut young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things. Laura is the first of two awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA on the blog this week.

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

Laura is represented by Brianne Johnson. The Art of Breaking Things was published by Viking/Penguin on June 18. Click here to read the synopsis. After I talk with Laura, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of this very book.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• When I was sorted as a Gryffindor on Pottermore, I was both surprised and slightly dismayed. I expected to be Hufflepuff, but also it seems to me that Gryffindor has fallen out of favor of late. When I asked my sons if I should take it again, they were like: “Mom, you’re a total Gryffindor.”

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

• I love flowers and plants, but I murder every plant that has been brought into my house, except one. I have a peace lily that was given to us after my mother-in-law died and I have kept that plant alive come hell or high water.
• When weather permits, I work at my laptop on my back deck. At the moment, I feel a slight breeze despite the heat. I hear different birds singing their morning tunes. And I see that the big old hydrangea tree in my line of vision is readying itself to bloom.
• While The Art of Breaking Things is my first novel to be published, it’s the third manuscript that I completed. It took ten years from finishing my first manuscript to the publication of this book.

El Space: The Art of Breaking Things is partially based on your own experience. How challenging was it to separate what happened to your main character, Skye, with your own experiences?
Laura: Early on, someone had advised me to write the truth first and then set it aside. When I was ready, I started to fictionalize the story. I was interested in exploring what could happen in a small family of three females if an abusive father figure re-entered their world. I was intent on writing an active—not a passive—main character. As soon as Skye appeared, I knew she could carry the story in the way that I hoped. She was fierce and passionate. Through her voice, I was able to keep my personal story separate from the novel I was crafting.

Laura with Cordelia Jensen, another of our awesome classmates who has been on the blog (click here and here).

El Space: How did the supporting characters change as the story developed?
Laura: Initially, Emma, Skye’s sister, read as way too young. Luisa, Skye’s best friend, was more critical of Skye hooking up and their friendship was fairly shallow. Ben, Skye’s best guy friend—and maybe more?—sort of existed just for Skye’s benefit and Keith, a guy they go to school with, was an obnoxious jerk. Through revision, I worked to learn more about those characters, ensuring that they had lives outside of Skye’s life. Revising those characters made the overall story deeper and allowed me to create more nuance.

El Space: You were interviewed for an article on the #MeToo movement for Publishers Weekly. [Click here for that article.] But you wrote this book before that movement started. How has being linked to the movement been a game changer?
Laura: I started drafting the book in 2014. By the time I queried the agent who said yes, the #MeToo movement had broken and my agent saw a way to pitch my book. She was right because she sold the book in six weeks! When I started drafting the book, it was just for me. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to read the difficult story of a teen girl struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault. But #MeToo has helped us remove some of the stigma around discussing these experiences. I’m grateful to the movement because it’s also helped me let go of some of my own shame.

At HEAD HOUSE BOOKS in Philadelphia with fellow debut author ALEX VILLASANTE

El Space: How important is the premise when it comes to novel writing?
Laura: For me, the basic premise helps frame the overall story. Though I am not a plotter—I wish I was, believe me!—I do like keeping the overall premise in the forefront of my mind as I draft. For The Art of Breaking Things, I knew that I wanted to explore how a teen attempts to protect her younger sister when she can’t speak up about past abuse, and I wanted to place a party girl in the limelight. Many plot points around that premise changed during drafting and revision, but the basic concept remained the same from the very beginning.

   

THE CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE in Baltimore (left); Laura with her niece

El Space: Based on Skye’s journey and your own, what would you want a teen or anyone else who has gone through trauma to come away with?
Laura: I want readers to see that we aren’t good girls or bad girls, we are all just girls. I hope that young survivors feel seen and that they can begin the journey toward letting go of shame. I hope that people see that there can be healthy relationships after trauma and that there are resources to help you with the process of healing. But I also hope that people experience The Art of Breaking Things simply as a good read.

     

Laura at ALA (left); Laura and Alex with Katie Locke at B & N NESHAMINY

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Laura: Being in nature inspires me. Scenes often unfold for me as I’m walking in the woods. I can see them clearly and then I can’t wait to return home to write them down. I also find that I can untangle plot problems while walking my dog on the two-mile loop that we do most days. I read a lot, so I’ll also get inspired by the ways that authors bring their own stories to life. While I’m actually drafting, a hot cup of coffee doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but it helps keep me in my seat. 😄

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laura: I’m working on a new YA novel—a grief narrative that explores family relationships and the ways that we try to keep memories alive. The main character is living on a houseboat with her grandmother in southern Maryland and she’s being visited by the ghost of her mother who died less than a year earlier. In this story I’m particularly interested in the lies we tell ourselves about the people we love and ways that the loss of a parent can affect the way that a teen moves through her world.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Instagram.

Looking for The Art of Breaking Things? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

But one of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed after an interview that I will do with another great classmate later this week.

The first meeting of the book club went well. Though Royal Bee and Neon agreed That The Art of Breaking Things was the ideal first book to read, they argued about who would be more compatible with Ben.

Book cover, book signing photos, and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Beautiful Fonts

Type fonts have fascinated me ever since I learned to read via the daily newspaper ages ago. (True story.) Seeing words neatly arranged on a page always causes my heart to flutter. This is why I love books. (Well, that’s one reason why I love them.) Beautiful, clean-looking fonts always make me think of words being taken seriously. Font design is truly an art form.

And don’t get me started on cover fonts. I love when a designer uses a font that fits the theme of a book or some other aspect of it.

Out right now (cover by Alison Hunt)

Coming this June (cover designer—Dana Li; illustrator—Agata Wierzbicka)

Coming this October (not sure who the cover designer is, but the illustrator is Alice Brereton)

When I took calligraphy as part of my art studies in high school (yep, totally dates me), I had vague hopes of someday creating a beautiful font. Still waiting on that score. In the meantime, I can appreciate the beautiful fonts created by others. (And yes, I know—beauty is subjective.)

Duckbite Swash by Angie Makes

Alex Brush by TypeSETit

Reis by Marcelo Reis Melo

Girly Alphabet (yes, that is a thing)

 

Henry (um, he’s still working on this one)

 

Random photos that have nothing to do with fonts. Photo top left is a Squeezamal™. Photo top right shows sidewalk art (not drawn by me) outside my door that sort of matches the Squeezamal. Last but not least, a photo of the current occupant of my living room.

What covers or fonts have caught your eye recently? As you consider that, Andy of Thinkulum, come on down. You are the winner of The Contract between heaven and earth by John Howell and Gwen Plano! Comment below to confirm.

 

Duckbite Swash calligraphy font image fround at myfonts.com. Alex Brush found at naldzgraphics.net. Reis free font found at pesede.com. Girly Alphabet Font from designtrends.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals™ are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Six Years A-Bloggin’—Happy Post Hoodie-Hoo Day to You

 

February 20 was a blink-and-you’ll-miss it holiday known as Hoodie-Hoo Day. Yeah, I didn’t know about it either until Alexa told me. (Yes, Alexa occupies my desk, telling knock-knock jokes far cornier than the ones I had heard when I was in kindergarten.) What’s that you say? You missed Hoodie-Hoo Day, but you’re wondering what it’s all about? (Well, the hokey pokey is what it’s all about. But I digress.) Here is an explanation of Hoodie-Hoo Day from holidayinsights.com:

It is a day to chase away winter blahs, and bring in spring. After all, everyone in the northern hemisphere are [sic] sick and tired of winter at this point and a little crazy being cooped up inside all winter and not seeing the sun.

O. . .kay then. Don’t let the twitching eye fool you. I’m not crazy.

While I didn’t celebrate the holiday, I love the fact that people keep inventing holidays to inject some cheer into life. (Like International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is September 19.) Injecting cheer into life is kind of the mission of this blog. Which brings me to the first of three reasons for this post.

The title revealed it. This blog is six years old. I never imagined I would last this long as a blogger.

We tend to hear about benchmark anniversaries which are 5s and 10s. But six? Well, for wedding anniversaries, the traditional gifts to give are iron and sugar. I’m not making that up. You can find that info here. But wood is the modern gift. So . . . I guess I should treat myself to a cupcake, a crowbar, and a plank of wood.

 

My niece made this cupcake. 😊

Before I head to the nearest Home Depot to get my anniversary gifts, here is the second reason for this post.

To announce a Twitter giveaway hosted by Laura Sibson. You remember Laura from this post about the cover for her debut young adult novel. Today is the last day to enter, so you still have time to head over to her Twitter page. Click here to do so.

  

⭐GIVEAWAY! ⭐Today is 4 months from pub date for #TheArtofBreakingThings Please ❤️ & Follow. RT to be entered to win one of these amazing #novel19s books that would love to be on your shelf with mine. 😍🤗#giveaway #amwriting #amrevising #writingcommunity


Last but not least, this post is to announce the winner of a preorder of Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina, which will debut in June of this year. This post has the details.

  

The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lori from Lori’s Lane!

Congrats, Lori! Please comment below to confirm. And thank you to all who have read my blog over the years!

Author and book photos courtesy of the authors. Wood plank from homedepot.com. Birdgif by Sherchle. Number 1 from clipartix.com. Number 2 from clipartion.com. Number 3 from clipart-library.com. Number 6 from download-free-clip.art. Other photos by L. Marie.

Cover Reveal: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awesome Laura Sibson, who is here for the cover release of her contemporary young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things, which will be published by Viking.

First, loooooooooook! Take it in! Breathe in the beauty!

Here’s the synopsis:

In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr, The Art of Breaking Things embraces the power of a single voice.

Skye has her sights set on partying her way through high school and then escaping to art school and not looking back.

But her party-first-ask-questions-later lifestyle starts to crumble when her mom rekindles her romance with the man who betrayed Skye’s trust and boundaries when he was supposed to be protecting her. She was too young to understand what was happening at the time, but now she doesn’t know whether to run as far away from him as possible or give up her dreams to save her little sister. The only problem is that no one knows what he did to her. How can she reveal the secret she’s guarded for so long? With the help of her best friend and the only boy she’s ever trusted, Skye might just find the courage she needs to let her art speak for her when she’s out of words.

Now, let’s talk to Laura!

El Space: For quick facts about yourself?
Laura: (1) I was raised in Maryland but moved to Pennsylvania for college and have lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my adult life. I love the Northeast, but I also love to travel. This past summer, my family took a trip to England and Scotland and we kayaked on Loch Ness! No sightings of Nessie, I’m sorry to say.
(2) I love being in nature. In fact, I have trouble settling down to write if I haven’t first gone for a run or taken my dog for a walk in the woods.
(3) I had a whole career in higher education before I started writing. I didn’t start writing until I was in my early 40s!
(4) I live in a 130-year-old stone Victorian house in an area of Philadelphia that reminds me of Hogsmeade. In fact, we had a popular and super-fun Harry Potter festival here until Warner Bros. sent a cease and desist letter. There is still a festival, but it’s not the same.

El Space: What was your path to publication?
Laura: Well, how long you got? In all seriousness, I think my path to publication is long, but aspiring novelists may want to know that my path isn’t all that unusual. As I said above, I didn’t start writing a novel until my early 40s. I had always been an avid reader and I’d wanted to write a novel, but it took a while until I finally found the courage to start.

After completing my first manuscript about two sisters who learn that they are witches and not obtaining an agent, I realized that I had a lot to learn about writing well. I attended VCFA’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults—where I met you!—and while there completed a second novel about a girl whose mom dies and then she fights her uncle to remain in her house. I didn’t obtain an agent for that one either, but I got closer! I also got discouraged. I started writing a book just for me and my writer friends like you suggested I keep at it. Fast forward and it took almost fifty queries to land the agent who offered me representation. Brianne Johnson of Writers’ House was a great champion of my story and sold it in a few months. The book, The Art of Breaking Things, comes out on June 18! All and all, it took about ten years from when I first started writing to when I’ll have a book published.

El Space: Who is the cover designer? The artist?
Laura: The cover designer is Dana Li and the illustrator is Agata Wierzbicka. Dana also designed the cover for I Am Still Alive by Kate Marshall, which has just been optioned for a movie deal! Fun fact: I Am Still Alive was edited by my editor, Maggie Rosenthal! And Agata illustrated the striking cover of Courtney Summer’s latest novel, Sadie. I love how the design team worked together to create a look that is original and so inviting!

   

El Space: What elements make this a great cover for your novel?
Laura: In the novel, Skye has difficulty speaking the truth of what has happened to her. She comes off as self-reliant and fun-loving, but she’s also deeply wounded. Agata’s illustration beautifully captures that dynamic. The triangles flying off of Skye’s jacket show the reader the idea of things breaking, especially Skye herself and also hint at Skye’s artistic background. The title, along with the charcoal smudges on the cover, further cement that artistic sensibility—and the purple background color is just swoony.

The Art of Breaking Things will debut on June 18, 2019!

Check out the cover release at PenguinTeen.com.

Look for Laura at her website.

Author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Photo attribution: Rachael Balascak. Other covers from Goodreads.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.