The Gift You Can Give

Recently, my good friend Pamela, a fellow blogger, sent this to me, which caused me great delight.


If you’ve never read my blog before, you’re probably shrugging now and wondering (a) why yarn—and various textures of yarn at that—were sent to me and (b) why you should care. What does this have to do with your life as the post title implies? Let me address (b) first. Far be it for me to demand that you care. But perhaps if you knew what this gift means to me, and how you could do the same for someone, even without spending money, you might care. So, I will now address (a).

The Power to Create
I knit and crochet—mostly crochet. My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was a kid. I picked up knitting by looking at a how-to-knit book when I was 11. I love working with my hands—taking yarn and needles and making something out of them. I love flowers and other plants, but I manage to kill them. So for someone like me, the textile arts are the next best thing. After all, you can’t murder a flower made of yarn. That’s why I love anything that inspires me to create: yarn, a journal with blank pages, felt, pens, pencils, and markers. (Um, yes, I also write on the computer.) They remind me that I have the power to create.


Believe it or not, this “poodle” is a flower.


The same flower, only with less fuzzy yarn

The Power of Implied Competence
The gift of yarn is meaningful because of the implied competence factor. My friend believed I had the ability to make something beautiful from it. She didn’t send a craft book with it, telling me how to improve or announcing that others are more competent at needlework than me. She just sent the yarn.

By now you’re wondering what this has to do with you. Here’s the punch line you’ve been waiting for: you can use your words to stimulate the power to create in someone or to remind that person of the power of implied competence. Just by telling someone, “Your story (or blog post) meant so much to me,” “I appreciated your efforts the other day,” or “You can do this” can work wonders.

A paradigm shift might be necessary for those of us with a tendency to criticize first and admire second. 🙂 While constructive criticism can be a good tool, it doesn’t have to be the first tool we take out of the box.

If you’re a parent with young children, you can encourage their creativity by reading to them (or letting them read to you), drawing or painting with them, or working with them on a building project with Legos® (and that’s the only time I’m adding that registered trademark symbol). Give them the wings to fly. The great thing about Legos is that they provide the power to create and imply competence. Anything a kid (or you) makes is awesome. For inspiration, check out this Lego event post by another good friend and fellow blogger, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Or, watch The Lego Movie (2014) with your kids. Creativity is a theme of the movie. (“Everything is awesome!”) 


Maybe the person whose creativity needs to be encouraged is you. We all know about the inner critic—the discouraging voice that tells us we suck or that we’ll never finish what we’re working on. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that we have the power to create and that we’re more than competent at it.

Well, I’ve got a gift box full of lovely yarn and a cup of coffee at my elbow. I think I’ll go make somethin’.


Running Out of Space


Space Series

The awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann is no stranger to this blog, to the blogosphere, or the publishing world. Her latest novel, Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), has been released to critical acclaim. Now Lyn is working not just on another novel but a graphic novel as well. And she’s here today with part 4 of the Space Series. (The first post in the series can be found here, the second here, and the third here.)

I have a dilemma. I am running out of space.

The table that has housed my Lego community, Little Brick Township, is already full. Everything fits perfectly in a tight circle around Town Hall, the seat of power that embodies conflict in my stories.

photo of town with no spaceThat’s right. Not an inch to spare for a new building.

Now, Lego has announced the release of an adorable Parisian Restaurant that reminds me less of restaurants in Paris than those in Lisbon, with the narrow exterior staircase that leads to surprising new spaces as one climbs uphill.


In addition, I want to put in a canal along my main street to evoke Amsterdam, one of my other favorite cities. And once the canal is in, I need a houseboat. Lego doesn’t make Amsterdam-style houseboats, so I plan to use Jabba’s Sail Barge as the basis for a MOC (My Own Creation).

LEGO-Star-Wars-Summer-2013-75020-Jabbas-Sail-BargeWhile I need to expand my space, my husband wants to move from our house in Albany to an apartment in New York City, where space is at a premium. I could rent artist studio space for my “installation,” but I have so far earned $20 as a visual artist, and the stratospheric payouts that some YA authors enjoy have so far eluded me.

Right now, the future of Little Brick Township is all about making choices. The same goes for writing.

When I begin a novel, the possibilities seem endless. I have dozens of characters in my head and a lot of things to say. One of my biggest weaknesses is focus—having too many characters and trying to address too many themes at once. It hurts me to have to give up a character, but readers have trouble keeping too many characters in mind, and the truth is, characters have to do more than one thing to earn their keep. So I combine characters and save the one I gave up for the next book.

photo of traffic jam2

Uh-oh. A traffic jam.

The same goes for theme. It’s tempting to address all the issues people are talking about nowadays. After all, they’re on the characters’ minds too, and complex characters have complex lives. But these, too, have to be pared down so that the reader can concentrate on what’s most important about the story. In the course of revising Rogue over eighteen months, I had to take out multiple plot threads and themes, all of them related to the secondary characters, so that the reader’s focus would remain on my protagonist, Kiara, and her search for a friend (her external desire) and her own special power (her internal desire).

NaNoWriMo begins in about a week. This is our chance to write away, dreaming of all the possible places our characters can take us. However, there comes a time when we have to make choices for what works in our story, what the central themes and conflicts are, and who is most important to be around for the particular journey of our main character. The rest needs to be chopped out in the revision stage, perhaps to appear in the next story. In writing as in Lego towns, there’s simply no space to have it all.

Parisian Restaurant from; Jabba’s Sail Barge from

Check This Out: Rogue (Part 1)

Welcome back to the blog! With me today is another wonderful friend from VCFA: Lyn Miller-Lachmann—author of the critically acclaimed Gringolandia (Curbstone Books 2009), teacher, blogger, and Lego enthusiast. Welcome, Lyn! Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.


Lyn’s latest novel, Rogue, debuts mañana, so I’m thrilled that she’s here on the blog not one, but two days. Woot!


Here’s a quick synopsis of Rogue, published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin:

Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.

When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.

In Rogue, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann celebrates everyone’s ability to discover and use whatever it is that makes them different.

El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Lyn: I was just approved for my own show on WRPI, so in addition to being the assistant host of Los Vientos del Pueblo, which features Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history, I will now have a world music show on Sunday evening. I have constructed an entire Lego city with a dystopian underworld, and I recently added an entertainment district to the city.


Lyn’s city

I spent fall 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal, fell in love with the city, and am trying to find a way to live there again. I took a class in Portuguese this spring, which the professor taught through creative writing, and I wrote a 16-page short story entirely in Portuguese.


Lyn and her husband and colleagues in Lisbon

El Space: Lyn, you always were an awesome DJ! The fact that you’re a hard worker was obvious when we first started at VCFA. You make me feel lazy with all of your accomplishments. Congratulations on that radio show, by the way. Now, let’s talk about your middle grade novel. How did the title for Rogue come about?
Lyn: This novel changed titles multiple times. My agent submitted it as Kiara Rules, but a boy in my seventh grade Sunday school class said, “This is the kind of book I’d read, but not if it has a girl’s name in the title and pink on the cover.” The publisher chose Rogue because she is the X-Men character with whom Kiara is obsessed, and Kiara is herself a “rogue”—an outsider who has trouble following society’s rules.

El Space: Rogue is my favorite of the X-Men, so I’m all for the title. How has the shifting information we have about Asperger’s syndrome helped or hindered the path to the publication of Rogue?
Lyn: The debate over classifying Asperger’s syndrome under the broad category of autism, rather than a separate diagnosis, definitely helped sell the manuscript. I had a letter published in The New York Times about this topic, shortly before the book sold to Penguin, expressing my concern that those diagnosed with Asperger’s continue to receive the support and accommodation that has allowed many of us to succeed in school and in the workplace.

I feel that I took a big risk “coming out” as someone on the autism spectrum—I’ve had the official diagnosis since 2008—but social skills are key to success in so many endeavors, and discrimination still exists. I hope that Rogue will open people’s eyes to what all of us can contribute to the world, even if we have trouble fitting in and aren’t exactly social butterflies.

El Space: How much of your experience informed the writing of Rogue?
Lyn: Many of the incidents in the novel are variations of things that happened to me. In the first chapter, Kiara figures that if she sits at the popular girls’ table, she too will be popular. I too thought that would happen, but when I set my lunch tray on the table, one of the popular girls pushed it to the floor. It’s one of those moments from middle school that you never forget, but I didn’t react in the same way Kiara did when the popular girl pushed her tray to the floor. I wish I had, but I was too afraid, and thus continued to get stepped on all the way through middle grade and high school.

Also drawn from my experience is the moral choice that Kiara has to make—to keep Chad’s secret about his family’s business in order to keep Chad as a friend, at times even abetting what the family is doing—or break off the relationship and tell someone. When I first got my driver’s license, I unwittingly became a conduit for popular kids in the grade below me who were buying and selling drugs. For me, the worst part was realizing that these kids didn’t want me in their clique. They didn’t want to be my friends; they were only using me to get what they wanted.

I hate to stop here, but I have to for today. Don’t give me those puppy eyes! Tune in again tomorrow for more of my discussion with Lyn. Meanwhile, you can find Lyn at her website or follow her on Twitter: @LMillerLachmann.

Rogue is available at these fine establishments:
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson’s Bookshop