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.

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.

Back from Retreat

All last week I was at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania—the main reason why I didn’t post last week or do my usual blog visiting. I was there for another Unworkshop—a fancy way of saying that I stayed in a cabin and wrote, instead of attending a workshop orchestrated by someone else. I went with four friends who also were there to finish a middle grade or young adult novel or at least to discuss strategies for getting back in the writing game.

 

You know how the first time you go someplace, you take a million photos of random things like trees and rocks?

   

Everything you see is viewed with wonder because you’re away from home and eager to see fresh sights. Well, I didn’t take as many photos this time. Oh, I still have photos of trees and rocks and the occasional building. But this time, I was more focused on getting things done. Oh and resting too. I needed that time away.

   

  

I met a bunch of lovely writers. Ate great food. Took walks.

But my guess is you’re probably here to find out who won the preorder of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, a middle grade time travel novel written by Nicole Valentine. If you’re confused by that sentence, click here.

  

This novel will be released in October 2019. A preorder of it, however, has been won by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

by . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles. You will receive this book upon its release this fall. Something to look forward to when the cold weather returns! Please comment below to confirm!

Thank you to all who commented.

Henry was upset that I was gone for several days and had left him behind. So he refused to face forward for this photo. (Yes, he gave me the turned back like a cat.) But at least he brought flowers.

Author photo and cover courtesy of Nicole Valentine. Other photos by L. Marie.

Cover Reveal: A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity

I love cover reveals, especially the ones in which I get to participate. The marvelous Nicole Valentine, whom you remember from this guest post, is back with the cover of her middle grade science fiction novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner) due out October 1. Nicole is represented by Linda Epstein.

Take a good look. Drink in the greatness.

Now, let’s talk to Nicole.

El Space: For quick facts about yourself?
Nicole: I love falconry and want to train my own hawk or falcon someday.
I am a technologist and author, but I also used to design cross stitch samplers! They were from the vantage point of famous classic characters in classic literature.
I also knit and I used to be the Chief Technology Officer of a site called Craftopia.com which was great because I got free yarn.
All our family pets have literary names, Merlin, Arthur, Tink, and Pickwick.

El Space: Oh man! Wish I could get free yarn! Now, let’s talk about that cover. It is fabulous! So colorful! I also loved your first cover reveal at MG Book Village. How long did it take you to write this debut novel? What made you stick with this story?
Nicole: It’s so hard to say how long it took. I’ve been writing this novel on and off for years and the novel has changed many times. The first seed of the idea came to me when I was just a teenager. I didn’t start writing it in earnest till I went to VCFA where I met you! Almost all of the stories I have came to me when I was younger or are built on ideas from the past. Everyone should hold on to their journals!

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is about a very practical, science-loving boy who discovers all the women in his family can time travel. I have been fascinated with time travel since I was a child and this story explores not just the adventurous side of being able to travel in time, but all the emotional and moral conflicts that would arise. I describe it as A Time Traveler’s Wife meets Tuck Everlasting. While there is plenty of page-turning adventure inside, it is also a heartfelt story about family and loss.

   

El Space: What expectations, if any, did you have about the cover? What elements did you hope to see? Who is responsible for the cover design and illustration?
Nicole: I was hoping that the artist would not give the main characters a certain look that would color the reader’s perception. I know when I was a kid I liked to picture the characters for myself. I was thrilled when this was the route that Alice Brereton took. She also goes by the name Pickled Alice. I’ve yet to meet her, but I’d love to thank her.

El Space: What was your response to seeing the cover for the first time?
Nicole: I was thrilled at how it jumped off the page and hopefully it will jump off the shelves come October too! It captures the magic and the mystery of the book really well.

You can pre-order A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity now from Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. But one of you will receive a pre-order of the book just for commenting. Winner to be announced on April 2 (rather than April 1, lest you think this is an April Fools Day prank). (I will not have a post next week, by the way.)

The official book synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. He clings to the concrete facts in his physics books and to his best friend, Gabi to cope with his sadness. But when his grandmother tells him the family secret: that all the women in their family are Travelers, he realizes he has to put his trust in something bigger than logic to save his Mom.

Looking for Nicole? You can find her at her website, steaMG.org, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity book cover and author photo courtesy of Nicole Valentine. Other covers from Goodreads. Hawk from dreamstime.com.

Guest Post: Nicole Valentine of steaMG—The Middle Grade Sci-Fi Authors Alliance

Today, I’ve turned over the reins of the blog to my good friend, Nicole Valentine, whose middle grade novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, will be published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner this October (but is available for preorder now). Nicole is here to talk about her latest venture.

A big thank you, L. Marie. for giving me the opportunity to answer two questions here on your blog. She asked me, “What is steaMG and why did you create it?”

SteaMG.org is a collective of authors who want to celebrate sci-fi and science-inspired fiction for middle grade readers. Currently, there are fifteen of us. Our member authors contribute to the blog and we have special guest posts too. Our aim is to add new member authors twice a year, while always looking for interesting guests. Every member has a middle grade book either published or on contract that can be described as sci-fi, spec, or science-inspired fantasy or fiction. We write about time travel, parallel universes, strange new worlds, outer space, and nature doing weird and wonderful things—all subjects that inspire wonder and awe.

As to why I made this collective, when I first had the idea, I wanted an online space where fellow authors could talk about their love of the genre, be an online source of information for librarians, teachers and readers—and also for each other. I envisioned a discussion board where fellow middle grade sci-fi authors could talk and schedule events with each other and share ideas. My biggest worry was no one else out there would join me! I decided the only way to see if it would work was to start it—an “if you build it, they will come” approach. I posted on several discussion boards and talked to other friends in the industry and that is how I found the initial fifteen. I give them a lot of credit for signing on to something that did not yet exist. It’s a bit like agreeing to take a voyage before the ship is built.

My initial blog post at steaMG.org, “The Science of Awe,” talks about why the emotion of awe is so important and why I think it’s important that we foster it in children at an early age. I credit sci-fi books with saving me as a kid. I read whatever I could find about time travel after losing my father to a sudden heart attack. To adults, trying to learn how to time travel sounds like an illogical solution to grief, though in many ways, it worked! Those books taught me hope. They gave me something to chase after—the feeling of wonder and awe. They gave me tools to cope.

That’s just my own personal story about how I relate to the genre, but there are so many ways it works well in children’s books. It’s full of possibility in creating empathy, introducing children to the possibility of worlds and people beyond their own, and seeing their intrinsic value. It helps children step outside of their viewpoint and witness their own world as an objective visitor. You don’t need to travel through outer space to do that either! Fellow steaMG author Caroline Carlson’s novel, The Door at the End of the World [debuting this April] does this really well with a fun, sly wink. I hope she’ll talk a bit more about that in her upcoming post. I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow steaMG members talk about what inspires them and why they write what they do.

    

As to what you can expect in the coming year, we will keep you up to date on middle grade books coming out in the genre. We have thought-provoking guest posts lined up in the next few months: one takes a deep dive into middle grade sci-fi from an academic viewpoint, another will talk about the genre in short story form for middle grade. There will be brilliant insights on the craft of writing from member authors, and an interview with the artist whose sci-fi art graces a fair portion of our site and the very strange coincidence that brought him to us.

And that’s all just the beginning. It’s a big universe and there’s a lot to explore. We are accepting guest contributors and traditionally published authors who would like to join are welcome to head over to steaMG and say hello.

Nicole Valentine has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She teaches writing at the Highlights Foundation. Previously, Nicole was a Chief Technology Officer at Sally Ride’s Space.com, Figment.com, and an early member of the web team at CNN.com. Nicole resides outside of Philadelphia with her family, two large dogs named Merlin and Arthur, and two small cats named Pickwick and Tink.

L. Marie here. I hope to have Nicole back at a later date for the cover reveal of her novel. And speaking of novels, Melanie Crowder, whose novel, The Lighthouse between the Worlds, was featured in the Christmas giveaway (see this post), also is a steaMG author.

 

SteaMG Logo by Jim Hill. Nicole Valentine author photo by Nina Pomeroy Photography. Space image from graphicsbeam.com. Caroline Carlson author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Infinity clock image from ufo-spain.com.

A Writer’s Process (3b)

We’re back with the fabulous Nicole Valentine discussing her process and her book, The Idle Tree. If you’re tuning in for the first time, this is part 2 of the discussion. Please check out part 1. Thanks to all who joined in the discussion yesterday. Now, let’s get to it!

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El Space: What was your biggest “ah ha” moment concerning your process? How did you come to this discovery?
Nicole: I was writing scenes and they were all fine and good. Everything in them was necessary; there was no passivity. The formula was there; yet still I felt like something was wrong. I knew it wasn’t a character or plot issue; it was something bigger: structure. I went back to the Structure Queen, aka Franny Billingsley, author of The Folk Keeper and Chime, and enlisted her help. She was integral in making me realize what was missing: the cog-like effect each scene should have on the next.

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The cogs metaphor worked well for me. When I was a kid, I had this terrible Milton Bradley game called Downfall. I say it was terrible, because compared to Life and Clue, it’s like playing tic-tac-toe with a stick in the dirt. However, when it comes to understanding scenes, it’s a great visual to have, so I’m including a picture here.

El Space: Pictures are good!

Downfallimage

Nicole: There were these cogs you had to turn in order to get your little round disks to fall and land in your well. If you didn’t line up your cogs correctly, your opponent could get their disks down before yours. A scene is like a cog in your novel. It must work like a precision instrument. The cog must deliver that reader into the next scene and the next. Your reader is that happy little disk that wants to land in the well of victory, aka “satisfying resolved plot-land.” If you just keep stacking cogs with no thought of how the scene will deliver them to the next cog, well, that will be your downfall. See what I did there?

El Space: I think so. You need a strategy to keep a reader invested. Speaking of investments, what steps do you take to safeguard your writing time?
Nicole: It’s hard. I have a wonderful and supportive husband who treats parenthood like a shared job, and I’m so thankful for him. He’s my first reader, too. Motherhood and the day job can put demands on the writing time, but I’ve learned to treat them as opportunities. I’m known to copy down interesting habits and facial tics in a boardroom for use later. I try to treat my writing time like an office job. I write at night as well. It’s midnight as I’m answering these questions, so you’re getting silly Nicole with lots of references to my misspent youth.

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El Space: Ha ha! This is probably the time to hit you up for favors! But moving on, some authors feel they have to dumb down scientific concepts because they’re writing for kids. How will you make the science accessible, yet challenging for readers?
Nicole: I suppose I’ve spent a large portion of my life explaining technology to those new to it. I refuse to speak in jargon. Good teachers always find a corollary in the student’s knowledge base they can use to describe a new principle.

As for my own principles of time travel, they are really quite simple. Finn doesn’t need things to be dumbed down, and I believe my readers won’t either. I like to reside in that area where science falls short and conjecture begins. There’s this wonderful line where science and magic meet. That’s where you’ll find me.

El Space: Me too! What time travel books inspired you?
Nicole: My favorite time travel is less sci-fi and more magical realism. I’m more intrigued with time travel as a natural occurrence—no machines. My favorite novel of all time is Jack Finney’s Time and Again.

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I’m a native New Yorker, and the city is as much a character in that book as the protagonist, Simon Morley. The first time I read it, I was so enchanted with it that I had to take the 5th Avenue bus to work every morning, even though it meant waking up an hour earlier. Time travel is part nature and part science in this book.

You can probably guess that my favorite series growing up was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (book 1). More recently, I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, which I thought was so brilliant the pages actually glowed when I turned them. Did anyone else notice this?

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El Space: I’ll say yes, since I loved that book!
Nicole: I’ve also enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

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Michael Crichton’s Timeline was brilliant for the tie in of physics. As for non-time travel books, I love anything by Charles de Lint and Alice Hoffman. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern blew me away. I’m convinced she can write setting like no one else, it might not have been time travel, but I was definitely in that circus with her. I also love craft books. I keep a Pinterest page of favorites that many author friends help me curate: The Craft of Writing.

El Space: How did your technology background prepare you for writing your novel?
Nicole: I suppose it’s prepared me to get a handle on structure and plot. The planning ahead in creating an application is similar to outlining a novel. When I’m not in outlining land, I think the comparisons end.

When I’m pantsing (yup, still hate the term), it feels more organic. Something inside my brain takes over, and it just flows. That doesn’t happen to me with coding. There is nothing that beats the feeling of a successful writing session, one where the muse stood by your shoulder the whole time.

Thanks so much, Nicole! This has been awesome. If you have questions for Nicole, please comment below.

Stopwatch from dreamstime.com.