A Writer’s Process (12a)

Today, I’m talking with another great classmate of mine, Nora Carpenter. She’s here today and tomorrow to talk about her young adult novel, A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. And no, the novel isn’t about me. But thanks for thinking of me. We’ll also discuss some trends in young adult fiction. I’ve got my coffee in front of me, so let’s get started.

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El Space: Welcome, Nora. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
2008-10-20_old-bathroom-door-keyNora: I graduated from VCFA’s Writing for Children and Young Adults master’s program in July 2012—a proud member of the amazingly talented Secret Gardeners! I am Associate Editor for Wonderful West Virginia magazine; I’m a certified yoga teacher; I live in Asheville, NC; and I have a wonderful husband, son, and two mischievous dogs, Holmes and Watson. Sorry . . . that’s five facts. 🙂

El Space: That’s quite all right. The more the merrier, I always say. 🙂 What inspired you to write A Beautiful Kind of Crazy?
Nora: The initial nugget of inspiration came to me because of some struggles that some of my friends were going through, things for which there were no definitive answers. I started thinking about some hard topics, like family goals versus individual goals, loyalty, and betrayal, and how a teenager might handle being pulled in different directions by different people she loved. From there, the character of Cay Zeller was born. The novel explores deep family bonds, prejudice, and what it takes to heal a cherished bond severed by betrayal. And her story turned into something I didn’t expect, which was nice.

El Space: Cool! I love when a story evolves. What authors inspire you?
62151Nora: Gosh. So many! Actually, this is an interesting question for me, because I find most often that books inspire me. That is to say, I fall in love with certain stories and characters. There are no authors about whom I can say I love every single thing they’ve ever written, but there are definitely books that make me think, Wow. This is absolutely incredibly done. I hope my stories impact readers the way this story has impacted me.

250924So, let’s see . . . some inspirational books/authors for me are: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Damage by A.M. Jenkins, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, and the Make Lemonade trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff. I could go on all day, because I’d say anyone who writes a story that resonates with me provides inspiration. And I think I learn something from every book I read. What really impresses and inspires me is when authors make regular, everyday characters with regular, relatable problems completely fascinating and engaging.

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Also, I love when authors write notes at the end of novels and talk about how they had to write their book five or six times to get it right. That is inspiring. It reminds me to make sure I give them as many drafts as needed. I think a lot of people think authors just sit down and churn out 300 pages on the first try, and that first draft is published as is. And maybe there are some people who do that. But gosh, writing is an incredibly difficult labor of love, and it can take draft after draft after draft to finally reach the heartbeat of a story and produce something that is vibrant and true.

El Space: What writing advice have you received that changed the way you think about writing?
Nora: In a fabulous lecture, Louise Hawes explained that in order to generate plot, you should constantly ask yourself two questions: “What does my character want?” and “Why does she want it?” I have these questions posted at my desk and they led me to create the plot for A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. It seems obvious now, but it was eye-opening back then to realize that in a great story, plot is inextricably connected to its protagonist. You shouldn’t just be able to change the protagonist and have the exact same story unfold. A different protagonist would have different ways of thinking about the world, and so make different choices, and have different friends, etc., all of which would change the outcome of the novel.

Breakthrough #2: During my second semester at VCFA, I worked with the magnificent Tim Wynne-Jones. He taught me so much about craft, but one of the best lessons I learned was how to make use of dialogue “beats” (pauses in which dialogue is broken by narrative—maybe a few words, maybe a sentence or longer—that make the dialogue feel real). Not only did I learn how to make fictional dialogue more authentic, I also learned how to accentuate important lines of narrative by manipulating the sentence length and structure of what comes immediately before and after.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Nora: I’m so close to finishing the last draft of A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. After that, I’ve got several ideas, but I’ll most likely be starting a novel with a teenage protagonist who suffers from undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. People usually think someone with OCD is just a super-organized neat freak. That person may have OCD tendencies, but the illness is much scarier and life-hindering than that. My character is afraid of touching certain things, can’t stop washing her hands sometimes, etc. I’m also working on some more poems for Wild, Strong, and Free: Interactive Yoga Poems for Kids, my kids’ yoga picture book.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue talking with Nora about her novel and trends in young adult fiction. For now, if you have questions for Nora about her novel, the authors she admires, or about yoga, feel free to comment below. And thanks for stopping by!

Key from eastonclass1.bltnorthants.net. Book covers from Goodreads.

I’m Entitled?

I’ve got two winners to announce, thanks to the Random Number Generator. (I love it so! I could just kiss it!)

1335816The winner of the $15 Amazon gift card to purchase Under the Mermaid Angel by Martha Moore is

Andy of City Jackdaw!

Andy, congratulations! I checked Amazon UK. The book is available! Your card will be in pounds.

NEWCOVER-199x300The winner of the $25 Amazon gift card to purchase Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta and The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy is

Beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!

Congrats, beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes (John). Um, hopefully you can confirm with your email address and whether or not you require Amazon UK as well. (You mentioned having trouble commenting lately.) Please comment below or catch me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com.

On with the show. . . .

Why the post title? Well, let me start by taking you way back to fifth grade. My good friend Nathaniel had a habit of blurting out in class, “Somebody farted!” Everyone would giggle, while our teacher, Mrs. Nave, frowned and yelled for quiet.

Back then, we had the whoever-smelt-it-dealt-it rule. Meaning, if you called attention to it, you were the culprit. And that was generally true of Nathaniel. Since he was the class clown, he was quick to point the finger at someone else, even when he was the culprit.

The other day I read this post at Lisa Kramer’s blog. You have to read the post to know the issue. I was incensed at the demands some of her students made and even commented that the demands smacked of entitlement.

After that, I couldn’t help noticing my own entitlement issues. If I could readily judge someone else’s issue, I surely have a similar problem. Whoever smelt it, dealt it, right?

Right. Anger is the first sign that I have an attitude of entitlement. I’ve been Princess Pouty lately. (I can’t take credit for that appellation. If you’re a fan of the Avatar series, you know that Zuko was called Prince Pouty in an episode.) In fact, the cat in this photo reminds me of me—the stance and expression, rather than the caption.

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As embarrassing as it is to admit to my faults—my demand for an expected outcome in each situation—I need to own up to them, rather than pull a “Nathaniel” or act Pharisaical as I point the finger at someone else. So here they are in all of their dismal glory.

The blog. If I write a post, I am entitled to readers, especially readers who comment. I’m sighing and hanging my head at this one. It’s all part of the “If you write it, they will come” field of dreams. (Remember that movie?) Two weeks ago, I asked myself, If no one comments or follows this blog, will I still write blog posts? Am I writing them for comments or am I writing them because I want to write them? A good dose of reality was the key. There are so many blogs out there. The fact that anyone chooses to stop by my blog—well, that’s a tiny miracle. But no one owes me a comment, simply because I blather on.
The search for an agent. If I query a manuscript, I’m entitled to an agent’s acceptance or feedback as to why it was not accepted. After all, the world is waiting for this manuscript! Actually, the world is waiting for the next Hobbit movie or the new Plants vs. Zombies videogame. (I know I am!) Yet the anger I feel when I hear “no” or whenever I don’t hear back from an agent points to entitlement. I can hear some veterans of the querying process chuckling and whispering, “Naïve much?” Ha ha! Yeah. I read a comment by an agent at a blog post, which in short stated, “Get over it! Act professional. Learn from the rejection.” Wise words.
The job search. If I apply for a job, I’m entitled to it, especially if I’m qualified or more than qualified for it. Even I can’t help giggling at that attitude, even after growling at employers who passed up my applications.
The left lane. If I’m driving in the left lane, those who drive slower than me should automatically get over and let me go on my merry way. The road rage I frequently indulge in is always a sure sign of the attitude.
Prayer. Whatever I ask for, I should get, especially if I have a good reason for asking. Oh man do I have this bad.

The list goes on and on. Truth hurts sometimes. But the fact that this list took all of two seconds to compile shows that I needed to face the truth and put aside Princess Pouty.

Please don’t think for one minute that I am holding up a mirror for anyone else. The only mirror I’m holding up is compact size. In other words, I usually air my own dirty laundry.

Now, aren’t you glad you stopped by the blog today? Don’t worry. You’re under no obligation to leave a comment. (Well, John and Andy have to, in order to confirm.) I’m tearing up my “titles.” Ya get it? Entitlement? Titles? Guess I’d better add to the list above. (I’m entitled to laughter at my bad puns.)

Cat from LOL Cats.

A Writer’s Process (10)

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Friends often lead to new friends. I’ve said that before in a post. Here on the blog with me is Martha Moore—author extraordinaire. I met Martha through a friend, Sharon Van Zandt. Martha is the author of Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof.

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At the end of the post, I’ll announce a special giveaway. For now, let’s welcome Martha to the blog.

El Space: Welcome, Martha. And now, please share four quick facts about yourself.
Martha: When I was four, I found it exciting that an old tin door pressed into the grass could open a buried room protected from the Texas hot sun. I could follow my grandmother into this damp, chilly underworld and retrieve my favorite treats: watermelon pickles and sweet pickled peaches. When I was five, I met my first children’s author, Edna Walker Chandler, when she talked to my grandmother’s third grade classroom. I could not believe that this ordinary woman wearing a house dress and black shoes, had such stories buried inside her.

p-LighthouseWhen I was ten, I looked out our kitchen window one early morning and saw that during the middle of the night, my father had filled the backyard with boats, old peeling paint kinds of boats, including a wooden houseboat, or what seemed like a small house, to me. My mother cried at my father’s new venture, but my sister and I saw a playground. As a teen, I loved exploring caves dug into the rock at Palo Duro Canyon, a beautiful canyon that magically opens up in the flat stretch of land and sky near Canyon, Texas. Today, I still enjoy the magic of the unexpected. Recently, a giant sunflower miraculously sprung up in the midst of the zucchini plants in my backyard garden.

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El Space: Great stories! So what inspired you to write Under the Mermaid Angel?
Martha: When I was about eleven, the woman next door became my friend. My mother did not like her. She was too flamboyant and wild. Sometimes she drank beer and she stood at the ironing board ironing playing loud music on the radio. I was amazed that she even ironed her panties. She laughed a lot and she was funny. I loved her. Many years later, I began writing stories, or I suppose scenes, with someone like this woman and a thirteen-year-old girl named Jesse. At the same time, I was intrigued by a mystery at the junior high where I taught. The teachers were talking about a young girl who refused to remove her long coat even though it was very hot both inside and outside the school building. I wondered why a girl might find it hard to let go . . . of a coat . . . or perhaps something deeper. That girl became Jesse.

After a time, I realized the stories fit together, but something was not working. Why was Jesse the way she was—somewhat isolated and bereft of imagination? For example, she looked at the moon and saw it as a barren, vacant place. Her older friend, Roxanne, saw it as magic. I could not figure out Jesse’s problem. I heard a writer say to write about your deepest pain, the thing you could never tell anyone. I searched within myself and found a deep buried secret. That became Jesse’s secret, the thing she could never tell anyone. I let my own emotional “fuel” drive the story, the longing, the loss and the final emerging into a world where imagination can remember the past.

El Space: For those of you who are curious, here is the synopsis of Under the Mermaid Angel:

Thirteen-year-old Jesse leads a pretty boring life in just about the most boring place in the universe — otherwise known as Ida, Texas. She cannot forget the death of her baby brother seven years ago, and how she just couldn’t pray for him when he was sick. She never talks about it though, not even to her best friend, which is something she doesn’t have, anyway. But all that changes when Roxanne moves into the trailer next door. Thirty years old, with her fake fur coat, wild red hair, and romantic notions, Roxanne is a revelation to Jesse. Why has she moved to Ida, of all places? Their growing friendship will change Jesse’s life, giving her back a vision of hope beyond the mundane world around her.

Martha, have you noticed a theme in your writing? If so, how does it play out in Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof?
Martha: I suppose all of my books have themes of loss, of love and friendship, of starting over. Jesse has the “hidden” loss of her baby brother which is fueled by guilt. Her friend, Roxanne, is kind of a flawed guide, leading Jesse into a better future. Like a female Moses, or a teacher, or parent, or any other kind of leader, it is a future that she, Roxanne, cannot enter herself. In the book Matchit, Matchit, the bad luck boy who got his name from his father’s good luck in a poker game, too has loss. He finds himself living for a time in a junkyard. Even in the junkyards of our lives, we can discover goodness. We may have to go back into a flawed life, but we can enter a future armed with treasures that give us a new start. Shelby, in Angels on the Roof, feels the loss of a father. She is disgusted with what she sees as a loony mother, who is obsessed with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. It takes a while and a guide in an old woman to help Shelby uncover a truth that reveals her mother’s love.

El Space: What excites you about middle grade fiction?
Martha: I do not have anything wise to say about middle grade fiction. I just like being on that bridge. The middle grade self inside of me feels alive and real. It’s about getting in touch with the deepest roots of ourselves where life feels most raw and painful and at the same time, most hopeful.

El Space: What advice do you have to help fiction writers step up their game?
Martha: A writer once told me to “write what you can write.” I think there is truth in this.

Thanks, Martha, for being my guest! Thanks also to everyone who stopped by to read this interview. I read and loved Under the Mermaid Angel (Laurel-Leaf Books), and I want someone to have a chance to get this book. So, here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m giving away a $15 Amazon gift card to a commenter who must agree to purchase this book. And yes, you must be a follower or a regular commenter of this blog. So, folks, the comment lines are now open.

UPDATE: Since I have two giveaways this week, I will announce both winners on Friday.

Palo Duro Canyon photo from tpwd.state.tx.us. Sunflower from Wikipedia.

A Writer’s Process (9)

And now from the ridiculous (see last post) to the sublime. Today on the blog is the chic and sensational Sandra Nickel, another good friend from VCFA. Get out your magnifying glass and your deerstalker, ’cause we’re talking about mysteries and ghosts. Mwahahahahahaha!!!!

Sandra at Shakespeare & Co

Sandra at Shakespeare and Company in Paris

El Space: Please share a few facts about yourself.
Sandra: I like to think that my writing is the reason my husband fell in love with me. Friends wanted to set us up, but he was living in Moscow, and I was living in New York, so I sent him an email every other day for three months until he was so intrigued, he hopped on a plane to New York so we could meet and have dinner. We did have that dinner, and I have lived a surprisingly European life ever since—two-and-a-half years in Moscow, four years in Paris, and now Switzerland. All because of those notes I wrote. The power of writing. See what it can do?

El Space: Wow! You must have sent some amazing email! Where is your writing taking you now?
Sandra: I’m working on my first middle grade novel, Saving St. Martha’s, a mystery set in a Swiss boarding school. A sort of Nancy Drew meets the first Harry Potter. I just received my critique group’s last comments, so I’m revising.

El Space: Please tell us about it.
Sandra: The heart of the story revolves around two twelve-year-old girls. Lorna is all logic, and Jeannette all mystical ideas, but when their parents ship them off to St. Martha’s to get rid of them, they become best friends; the school, their sanctuary; and Martha, the ghost of the former headmistress, their protector.

But the school is in trouble. Its old abbey is falling apart and the school is in terrible debt. A prized painting—the last gift from the school’s patroness—was never found. And worse, the girls discover that the hard-hearted Corbett Rast and his bank are going to take the abbey and shut down the school unless St. Martha’s comes up with $1,000,000 in 10 days. The girls and Martha vow to find the long-lost painting. But Corbett Rast wants it too . . . and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

Martha, the ghost, is quite snarky, so the story is fun—part mystery/part boarding school story, and a lot about friendship. The great news is that Saving St. Martha‘s has had a nice reception so far. It was named as a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize and Hunger Mountain selected the first two chapters to be published in its upcoming “Mentors & Tormentors” issue.

El Space: That’s awesome! What inspired you to write Saving St. Martha’s?
Sandra: A couple of things, really. First came the setting. My daughter used to go to school in this truly amazing place—a Swiss chalet that had been built for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and then taken apart and rebuilt piece by piece on a hill above Lake Geneva. The chalet is all dark wood and tall, sloping roofs, and inside there is this gorgeous staircase worn smooth and glossy from all the girls that have run up and down it. The moment I saw that chalet, I wished I had gone to school there and knew it would be the perfect setting for a middle grade story.

Sandra and Olivia with Chalet

Sandra and her daughter at the chalet that inspired Saving St. Martha’s

At this same time, my daughter and her best friend were so taken with mysteries and hidden treasures, they formed their own two-member club, a sort of private detective agency that solved the small and large mysteries around them. I put the school together with their private detective firm, a hidden treasure, a mystery, and came up with Saving St. Martha’s.

El Space: What drew you to write for the middle grade audience?
Sandra: Well . . . I wasn’t drawn to write middle grade. Not really. That whole story of what inspired me to write Saving St. Martha’s was a someday, down-the-road sort of inspiration. A long, long way down the road. I could imagine writing for young adults—and I did—and I could imagine trying my hand at picture books—and I did. But middle grade? There was something eminently frightening about it. My own middle grade years hadn’t been wildly happy, and I had clouded over my memories to the point of remembering very little. How was I to write for an audience living out the years I felt least connected to?

But then, I was accepted into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and someone—I don’t remember exactly who—tossed down the gauntlet of: “Why don’t you try writing a middle grade?” So, I did, mostly because I like to pretend I’m not scared of anything, other than heights and mice. I went through hypnosis to reconnect to my middle grade years. I hung out with middle grade kids. I read any and every middle grade book recommended to me. I wrote. And what fun it all has been!

El Space: Sounds like you were well prepared. What was the most challenging aspect of writing a mystery?
Sandra: In a way, mysteries are easier to write than other stories, because the broad arc of the story is already there. You set up the mystery, and then the mystery must be solved. Easy, right? The problem is that the small arcs that make up that broader arc can be tricky. New mystery writers—and this was certainly true for me—often believe they must hide the hints and clues and truth from the reader. But the opposite is true.

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Mystery writers must reveal every detail for the reader, but then use sleight of hand, distraction, or an unreliable character to make the truth difficult to discern. This is the tricky part, where mystery writers strive to hit the sweet spot of revealing enough, yet not too much. For this, having a critique group or beta readers is essential, since they are coming to the story for the first time. You want them intrigued, but not confused; you want them to have just enough information to keep reading, but not so much that they put down the book because they’ve already figured it all out.

El Space: What authors inspired you when you were growing up? Which inspire you now?
Sandra: There were so very many who inspired me. I was a big reader! But since we have been talking about middle grade, let me say: E. L. Konigsburg, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, Louise Fitzhugh, Norton Juster, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis. As for now, this blog isn’t long enough to name them all. But I guess I can say: Ditto for all the above, and add a few of my “new” discoveries: Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Paterson, Louis Sachar, David Almond, and Grace Lin.

Some Middle Grade Books That Have Inspired Me

Books that inspire Sandra

El Space: Do you stick to one project or work on more than one? What tools are helpful?
Sandra: I’m an immersion writer. I absolutely love submersing myself completely in one story-world at a time. That’s not always practical, however. Right now, in addition to Saving St. Martha’s, I’m working on a young adult Gothic ghost story and a storyteller’s poem about a female Paul Revere. When I need to quickly switch from one story to another, the best tool I have found is to freewrite my way into a character’s world. I start by having the character dress herself, noting every detail from the scratch of her wool skirt, to the cut of her socks’ elastic into her calves, then move onto other details like the woody-lead smell of her pencil and the squeal of a violin in the room next door. Five minutes of these kinds of specifics are enough. The wormhole is created, and just like that, I’m pulled from one story-world into the other and am ready to write.

Sorry, that about wraps it up! Thanks, Sandra, for being such a great guest!

If you have questions for Sandra about her book or her process, please comment below.

Magnifying glass from trenchesofdiscovery.blogspot.com.

Write from the Heart

crossroadEver find yourself at a crossroads? Sure you have. I didn’t have to ask. (Silly me.) But I don’t mean the literal fork in the road you reach by car, bike, or on foot. I mean the point where life could go in one direction or another.

I’m at a crossroads now as I contemplate my writing thus far and current publishing trends.

twilight-coverBack when the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer had become the in thing and I’d heard that agents and editors searched for books of that ilk, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and write a young adult vampire novel. After all, I’d read several. I could do this, right? Well, after four dismal pages and no discernible plot—just a scene in which the characters sat on a couch watching a horror movie for some reason—I called it quits. My heart simply wasn’t it in.

200px-Hunger_gamesAnd when Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy hit the bestseller lists, I considered revamping my stalled science fiction novel into a dystopian novel. Sure, my plot was full of holes and my system of government threadbare, but I just needed to work harder at ironing out the kinks. Or so I thought. I lasted until page 107 before putting it aside. Couldn’t make the plot work. Again, my heart wasn’t in it.

So where is my heart? Where it always has been: tucked away in a fantasy land sprinkled with magic and populated by elves, dragons, and quirky humans. I love a fantasy world steeped in mythology and dripping with tropes. I have six fantasy novels in various states: two complete; four others in the works.

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Yet when I hear that more and more humorous, contemporary middle grade books (which I enjoy) are being acquired at publishing houses, I have to ask myself: Write to the trend or not?

There are all sorts of practical reasons for doing so—lucrative ones. Yet as I consider ideas for crafting a humorous, middle grade story, the only ideas that come to mind are those that will mean yet more high fantasy novels.

Must I abandon my elves to go trendy?

9781582970523_p0_v1_s260x420A quote from a craft book by Nancy Lamb helped me gain perspective:

Produce the best story you can. Write it, craft it, rewrite it, hone it, edit it and love it. (25)

“Love it.” That’s the key. Do I love the world I developed and the characters that populate it? Yes. Am I producing the best stories I can? I think so. And judging by the abandoned novels versus the finished novels on my computer, getting to the finish line on a novel is not as much of a hurdle when I’m writing from the heart.

So, I think I’ll keep going in the direction that I’m already going. An enchanted forest waits up ahead.

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Do you write to trends? I’d love to hear about that. Are you also at a crossroads? What brought you to this point? Where does your heart lie?

Lamb, Nancy. The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001. Print.

Images from amersrour.blog.com, sodahead.com, and freewallpapers4desktop.com.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (b)

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Arr, mateys! Caroline Carlson, Scourge o’ the Seven Seas, is back to answer more of me questions. Strap on yer cutlasses or hoist yerselves a tankard o’ grog and give a listen. Mind the parrot!

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Bear this in mind: This be part 2 of our chat about Caroline’s book, Magic Marks the Spot, book 1 of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Ye can find part 1 here if ye missed it.

Magic Marks the Spot sails into port on September 10.

Later, I’ll announce the treasure that awaits one o’ ye. . . . Avast! I see ye trying to skip ahead. Heave to there! Wait for it or walk the plank!

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El Space: Why’d ye choose to write about scallywags like pirates?
Caroline: I have always loved pirates—and I should mention here that I’m referring specifically to the grog-swilling, treasure-burying, hook-wielding pirates of literary and cinematic tradition rather than real-life pirates, who were (and are) nothing like the pirates of popular culture. I think there’s something about this pop culture idea of piracy that’s very appealing, especially to kids—setting out in search of adventure and fortune, ignoring society’s rules, and never having to do your homework.

El Space: A fine life, if ye ask me! (Uh, but kids, stay in school.)
Caroline: I’d wanted to write a story about a pirate treasure hunt for ages, and when I visited the medieval Swedish city of Visby, which was once a pirate stronghold, I knew I’d found the perfect setting for my story. Gunpowder Island, the pirate stronghold in Magic Marks the Spot, is loosely modeled on Visby, though it’s really become its own place at this point.

It didn’t take long after that for me to decide that the heroine of this story should be a girl who dreams of being a pirate. Since characters can’t always get what they want, however, I had to come up with a way to keep my pirate girl from achieving her dream. I decided to give her the opposite of what she longed for: a stint at a terribly proper finishing school.

El Space: Yer a clever one and no mistake. How did ye come up with a talking gargoyle?
Caroline: He made his first appearance in my life during my senior year of high school, when he was a minor character in a story I was writing. The story wasn’t all that memorable, but the gargoyle was—he liked to read romantic tales of adventure on the high seas, and he stayed in the back of my mind for years.

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A gargoyle in Visby, Sweden. Photo from Wikipedia.

When I started writing Magic Marks the Spot, I realized that I needed someone for my protagonist, Hilary, to talk to in the first chapter as she prepared to go to finishing school. Who would be a better conversation partner than the gargoyle? So I put him over Hilary’s bedroom door and let them chat. Originally, I thought the gargoyle would stay behind and Hilary would recount her adventures to him at the end of the book, but by the time I’d finished writing that first chapter, I’d fallen utterly in love with the gargoyle. I couldn’t bear to stop writing about him! So he went off in Hilary’s luggage, and now he’s in nearly every scene in the book.

El Space: Arr! Glad I am that he is! Since yer character came into yer life when ye were a teen, what advice would ye offer a young writer?
Caroline: Everyone tells young writers to read as much as they can, and that’s great advice, so I’ll say that too. Read! And write as often as you can—school assignments, journal entries, letters, emails, blog posts—but don’t get discouraged if you can’t sit down and write out an entire story just yet. The important thing is to practice.

My biggest piece of advice, though, is to learn as much as you can about everything else in the world that’s interesting to you and that has nothing to do with being a writer. Find out about what’s going on in your town, in your country, and in the rest of the world. Learn a little bit about astronomy, archaeology, animals, architecture, archery, or anything else that’s interesting to you. Visit new places if you can, or take some time to explore your own neighborhood. Learn to play a sport or cook something delicious. All of the new things you learn will be your story fuel. They’ll get jumbled together in your brain, and months or years later, they’ll turn into a great idea for a book.

Sage words! A fine time I’ve had jawing with ye, Caroline! Yer welcome aboard the blog anytime!

For those of ye who signed on to this voyage, if ye haven’t clicked on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book, ye can do so now. And no, ye won’t be made to walk the plank if ye don’t!

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY: One of you who comments below will win a $15 gift card (ecard) to Amazon so that you can preorder Caroline’s book. Ye read that right!!! A $15 ecard!

Just comment and ye’ll be entered in the drawing! Of course, this be the honor system, so I won’t be looking over yer shoulder nor can I make ye walk the plank if ye sneak and order something else. But this card is for a preorder of Magic Marks the Spot. The winner will be announced on Sunday. Winners of previous giveaways are not eligible for this drawing. Gives others a chance, ye understand?

Thanks for sailing with us!
Please note: This offer is for today ONLY.

parrotAuthor photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Pirate images from ewallpapers.eu. Parrot from animalinformations.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (a)

Ahoy there! Here we be with the great Caroline Carlson, whose book Magic Marks the Spot—the first of a trilogy, mind ye—sails into stores September 10, thanks to the good folks at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency.

CarolineCarlson

She’s here today and tomorrow, mateys! And tomorrow, we have a special giveaway, so be sure and stop over. And no, I didn’t have to resort to pressganging. Caroline is here of her own free will!

I see that hand there. Aye, ye guessed it. I know Caroline from VCFA. Here be a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

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Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

pirate-cutlass-sword-721415El Space: Let’s start with four quick facts about yerself, lass.
Caroline: 1) I’ve worked as a library assistant, as a textbook editor, and now as a writer. 2) When I’m feeling stressed, I watch old episodes of Friends. 3) I am not sure there’s a point to a life without cheese. 4) I love swimming, baking, and being outdoors; I hate running, going to the dentist, and talking on the phone.

El Space: Arr, a fine list there. Plotter or pantser—which be ye? How’d ye make this discovery?
Caroline: I’m mostly a plotter. Before I start writing a new story, I need to know how the first twenty pages will go and what the climax of the story will be. I also usually have ideas for a few scenes that will take place somewhere along the way, though I don’t necessarily know how my characters will get from the beginning of the book to the end. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, but that only happens when I’m at least halfway through writing a first draft. I’m a fairly slow writer, so I try to make my basic story structure as solid as possible right from the start. Then, if all goes well, I won’t have to make huge structural revisions later on. But that’s a very big if.

Book two in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy is sort of a mystery, so it required a lot of elaborate plotting. I had to know where the heroes and villains were at all times, what they were up to, and how long it would take them to travel from one place to the next. I discovered, though, that plotting a story to that extent can squelch some of the great spontaneous moments that come when you sit down in front of a blank page with no idea about what happens next. For the third book in the series, I’m planning to dive in without knowing too much about what my characters are in for. It’ll be scary, but I’m pretty sure it’ll also be fun.

El Space: How much is Hilary like ye? Different from ye?
Caroline: Hilary and I aren’t much alike, at least superficially. She’s brave and tough, and I am a total wimp. Hilary hates dressing up and learning to dance at finishing school, but I love dancing, and I’m more than happy to wear a fluffy, fancy gown now and then. I’m also pleased to report that my parents are much nicer than Hilary’s parents are.

What Hilary and I have in common is that both of us are passionate about following our dreams, and we won’t let anyone stop us from doing what we love. It turns out that being a pirate and being a writer both require a lot of determination and sheer willpower. We’re also both fiercely loyal to the people we love. Thankfully, I have never needed to use a cutlass to defend my friends, but I absolutely would if the occasion arose. And both of us can tread water for at least thirty-seven minutes.

El Space: Treading water is a fine trait for a pirate. Useful for when ye have to walk the plank. Now, what was yer favorite book growing up?
210329Caroline: This is a question that’s nearly impossible to answer! I loved stories about magic, mystery stories, and anything funny. Coincidentally, those are the same types of books I love now. Some of my all-time favorite children’s books are The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry, and pretty much everything by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Alas, that be all the time we have today. Stow yer grumbling! Caroline’ll be back tomorrow. Tune in then for the special giveaway. In the meantime, ye can comment below or click on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book. Be sure to check out Caroline’s website here. Ye can also hail her on Twitter.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Amy Rose’s book, Entangled, debuts October 1, 2013. Watch for it! Book covers from Goodreads.com. Pirate sword from mrcostumes.com.