What Makes You Nostalgic?

The other day, I watched a YouTube video where the producers tried to recreate Dunkaroos (photo below). You can find that video here, if you’re curious. Or click here to learn a little more about Dunkaroos.

I’m seldom nostalgic over childhood snacks. As a matter of fact, I’m content to never eat a Twinkie again. (Now Hershey’s Kisses on the other hand . . .)

No, what gets me nostalgic are libraries and bookstores. Just the sight of a book still retaining its Borders sticker—like this one below—gives me the feels. I really miss Borders Bookstore. I used to shop at one in Wheaton, Illinois (photo at the right). It had a coffee shop, where I’d meet friends on many an evening. Local musicians would play on Friday nights. Sometimes poetry slams were held there. I attended many book signings there also.

   

See the photo below? This is my childhood library—the Walker Branch Library in Chicago (the far south side). Just looking at this photo causes a wave of nostalgia to wash over me. I used to go every week, up the hill to the library. I can still remember the children’s section, and the librarians who gave book suggestions to a curious kid like me who loved to read. I used to carry home several books, and gradually worked my way through the books in the children’s section. I read anything and everything.

I also miss the Barnes and Noble that also used to be in Wheaton—not too far from Borders, actually. When Barnes and Noble closed many of its bookstores years ago, the Wheaton location was an unfortunate casualty. I used to get my copies of the Harry Potter series at midnight every year at that store (along with hundreds of other people). The salespeople in the children’s section knew me.

What about you? What makes you feel nostalgic? While you consider that, as promised, I will now reveal the winners of Yoga Frog by Nora Carpenter and The Mortification of Fovea Munson by Mary Winn Heider. (For the interviews with these authors, click here and here.)

  

     

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of Yoga Frog is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

The winner of The Mortification of Fovea Munson is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen!

Congrats to the winners! Please comment below to confirm. I hope you enjoy these books!

P.S. Normally, I post once a week. But stay tuned this Wednesday for a special guest post by Sarah Aronson, whose third book of her Wish List series recently debuted. Yay! More on that on Wednesday!

Dunkaroos from thesobremesa.com. Twinkies from tested.com. Author photo of Mary Winn Heider by Popio Stumpf. Book cover art by Chi Birmingham. Author photo of Nora Carpenter by Chip Bryan Photography. Walker Branch Library photo from the Walker Branch website. Borders photo from Yelp. Barnes and Noble logo from comicsbeat.com. Other photo by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie Doll by Moose Toys.

Check This Out: Yoga Frog

With me on the blog today is one of my wonderful classmates from Vermont College of Fine Arts—the awe-inspiring Nora Carpenter. Nora is here to talk about her picture book for young readers, Yoga Frog, which debuts today, people!

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Yoga Frog was published by Running Press Kids and was illustrated by Mark Chambers. Nora also is the author of Yoga Frog: Reflections from the Lily Pond, which was written for adults and published in April (also illustrated by Mark Chambers). Check it out here. One of you will be given a copy of the Yoga Frog picture book for for young readers. Stay tuned after the interview to find out how. (Or skip ahead if you so choose. But you won’t be given any cake.)

Let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. I grew up in rural West Virginia, where my closest neighbor was a mile away. I loved roaming the woods, but the distance from people was also challenging because I’m more extroverted than introverted.
2. I’m passionate about the environment and conservation, so I’m a super active board member and incoming president of the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, where I now live. The Nature Center is an AZA-accredited zoological park that cares for animals that either couldn’t survive in the wild or are part of species survival and management programs.


3. I’m a Suzuki-trained violist, though I’ve been known to fiddle on occasion. 
4. I have three kiddos, ages 4 months, 3-1/2 years, and 6 years. I am . . . busy. And need to practice lots of yoga and mindfulness. LOL.

El Space: How did Yoga Frog come to be?
Nora: I’ve been practicing yoga since the early 2000s and became a CYT—certified yoga teacher—back when I lived just outside DC. I taught both adult and children’s classes, but I really fell in love with teaching yoga to pre-K kids. At that time, there weren’t a lot of quality materials for teaching yoga to young children, so I decided to write the book I wish I’d had as a teacher. It turned into a collection of yoga poems for children, and my graduate reading at VCFA included some poems from that collection. Several years later, a fellow alum who loved the poems went on to work for Running Press Kids, the publishing house that approached me about writing the book. I had never let go of the dream of introducing the healing world of yoga to kids through literature, so of course I jumped at the opportunity!

El Space: How long did it take to write? What was the path to publication for Yoga Frog?
Nora: Once I found the right framework, it didn’t take me super long to write, because I’m a yoga teacher and have had a yoga book idea for years and years! But like everything I write, the book went through numerous drafts. The first draft was a story about a little frog who learns yoga from Yoga Frog, whereas the final draft ended up as nonfiction with Yoga Frog as the sole character. Maybe one day I’ll revisit and reshape that original story. But I think Yoga Frog is definitely a better teaching tool in its final form.

Illustration by Mark Chambers

El Space: The illustrations are great! What was it like working with the illustrator, Mark Chambers? How much input did you have in regard to the illustrations?
Nora: Aren’t they adorable?! I’ve only met Mark virtually, because he lives in the UK, but he’s incredibly talented and kind. He made a Yoga Frog activity sheet for me to use at presentations, which was just so nice. And I LOVE the way he brought Yoga Frog to life. I viewed numerous versions of the illustrations and poster, including preliminary pencil sketches. My input included minor changes to the character’s body position to make sure Yoga Frog was clearly and accurately modeling each pose. Oh, and once I noticed that on one page he didn’t have eyebrows. LOL. But really, Mark did such a great job that I didn’t need to make too many suggestions. Also, he taught himself animation, which you can see in the Yoga Frog book trailer.

   

Book poster. Lemony Limes especially loves the resting yoga pose.

El Space Note: I wanted to feature the book trailer. But this post went live before the book trailer went live. You can find it online.
El Space: In 1935, famed author Margaret Wise Brown said, “A book should try to accomplish something more than just to repeat a child’s own experiences. One would hope rather to make a child laugh or . . . lift him for a few minutes from his own problems.” Would you agree? Please explain. What do you hope children will take away when they read Yoga Frog?


Nora: I absolutely agree. I designed the opening lines of Yoga Frog to help kids identify with Yoga Frog, but also to set a fun tone that will, I hope, take them away from their own problems for a bit. I also hope that the book gives them a fun, accessible way to manage those problems and stresses, which is why the poses have kid-friendly names in addition to their Sanskrit names. If kids have fun practicing yoga, they’ll want to do it again. And again. And again. Before they know it, they’ll have developed a life-long healthy habit that they can practice anytime they feel anxious or need a little mental or physical boost. The book includes an Author’s Note for parents with more explanation of yoga’s benefits for kids.

   

Left photo is Nora teaching an interactive presentation of the book at the Greensboro Bound Literary festival. Photo on right shows Nora’s sons.

El Space: Based on what you’ve learned in writing Yoga Frog, what advice would you give to a newbie picture book author? Why?
Nora: That’s a big, important question. Definitely READ current picture books, of course. Lots of them. And write. Constantly and ferociously. The longer I write, the more I understand the necessity of looking fear in the face and tackling your project in spite of it. This applies to all kinds of writing. Heck, any creative endeavor really. If you’re like me, there’s always that inner critic nagging at you: What if I’m not writing this story the right way? What if no one likes my idea? What if—heaven forbid—I make a mistake? To the best of your ability, tell those What Ifs where they can go. You’re going to make mistakes. You must. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not writing enough, and you’ll never uncover the rich ideas beneath them, the ideas that wouldn’t have emerged if it hadn’t been for those previous mistakes. Oh, and get yourself a writing group whose members will both give you honest, constructive feedback AND boost your confidence when you need it.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’ve got a couple projects up in the air, but my primary writing focus right now is my next young adult novel.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Nora.
Nora: Thank you so much for having me, Linda! Always great to chat.

Looking for Nora? You can find her at her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

Looking for Yoga Frog? You can find it at your local bookstore or online at Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com., and Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Yoga Frog just by commenting. That’s right. Comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on June 11. Why then? Because another classmate is coming on the blog soon. That’s right. I’m hosting two giveaways!

Now, free cake for everyone! It’s gluten free!

Author photo, book cover, Nature Center sign, book illustration, and yoga photos courtesy of Nora Carpenter. Author photo by Chip Bryan Photography. Yoga Frog illustration by Mark A. Chambers Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Goodnight Moon cover from barnesandnoble.com. Cake from goodtokmow.co.uk. Lemony Limes photo by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie doll is a registered trademark of Moose Toys.

A Writer’s Process (12b)

Nora_Carpenter_photo_2I’m back, talking with awesome and multitalented Nora Carpenter about young adult fiction. And you’re here too. That’s awesome as well. If you haven’t checked out the first part of the interview, you can click here and do so. Nora’s young adult novel is A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. Are we ready? Then, let’s go!

wocLOGO_OrangeEl Space: In an article at WriteOnCon, Kelly Jensen mentioned three elements to a good realistic young adult novel: world building, authentic characters, and dialogue. In fact she stated:

World-building is not solely about where a book is set, though. It also means developing a dynamic and fluid world within your story.

Would you agree about the necessity of the three elements? How did you go about “developing a dynamic and fluid world” in your book?
Nora: I 100% agree that a character’s “world” encompasses not just his outer environment, but also his inner world—in other words, the people with whom he comes into contact, his relationships with those people, how those people’s worldviews are a result of their environment, and how they impact the protagonist, etc.

Lego-people-lego-8853733-2560-1718Once we get past setting—okay, we’re in a boarding school . . . or at a homeless shelter . . . or in a large city—those places have to feel real. Ultimately, it’s the characters that populate those places that make the worlds come alive. They have to talk, think, and act like people who would be in those settings in real life. And out-of-place characters have to be explained.

I’m from a small, rural town. Like, really small and really rural. I graduated with 60 kids, and we drove an hour across windy roads to get to the mall. Kids from other schools in West Virginia made fun of us for being hillbillies! Anyway, I’ve always been interested in how people act and why, and I have very clear memories of high school. My parents still live where I grew up. So, in some ways I relied a lot on experience and memory in building Cay’s inner world. Her town is peppered with people of different mindsets—a lot of them conservative, but not all, because a small town where everyone is über conservative is not realistic, either. But they all have explanations for why they think/act they way they do. And those are the people who are influencing Cay, which helps explain what’s going on in her head.

I love Jensen’s point about real people not being consistent. It’s so true. Of course, you don’t want a character being wildly inconsistent, but small inconsistencies reflect real life and make characters come alive. In A Beautiful Kind of Crazy for example, Cay’s dad cares a lot about his kids, and Cay respects him a lot. But he doesn’t have the best relationship with Cay’s sister, Skye, because their personalities are so different. Like a real person, he’s not intrinsically bad, but he sometimes behaves in ways that bother Cay and so cause tension.

lego peoplePretty much every character in the book is flawed in some way. I love flawed characters, because everyone—EVERYONE—in real life has flaws. And I am really interested in the idea of trying to be a “decent person,” while at the same time discovering that “decency” is often subjective and even fluid. And what happens when you think you’re a pretty good person, but then you do something shameful, or something you think might be shameful, and does it matter if no one knows it was you? And what if it’s something that an apology won’t fix? I think most people struggle with these questions at some point, and they are ideas that A Beautiful Kind of Crazy explores.

143555El Space: Some writers have talked about the lack of contemporary realistic YA fiction. In an article at Entertainment Weekly.com about the movie adaptation of Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, writer Hillary Busis stated

I realized something else about her [the main character of Tiger Eyes] essential ordinariness: In a modern YA landscape glutted with fantastical dystopias, supernatural romances, brand-name-soaked glamoramas, and hyperbolic tragedy, what makes this heroine remarkable is the fact that she’s not very remarkable at all.

Busis goes on to state:

Trends, of course, are cyclical. I have no doubt that someday soon, the tides could change, ushering in a new wave of regular kid lit that replaces the Katnisses and Trises with characters who are less flashy but no less fascinating.

A Publishing Perspectives article by Dennis Abrams quoted from the Busis article. Yet many commenters took issue with the pronouncement of a lack of “regular kid lit.” How would you respond?
200px-Hunger_gamesNora: There is definitely great realistic fiction out there, but usually it’s the life-or-death fantasy stories like The Hunger Games that are in the public consciousness because of big movie deals. And let’s face it: stories like that are exciting. They are fast-paced, provide a great escape from a stressful world, and, because of the pace, can be emotionally exhilarating. I love a good fantasy novel with complex, interesting characters to go along with the exciting plot. I can tear through those things! I think young readers especially like stories like that because they imagine themselves as the protagonists. Middle and high school can be tough, so who doesn’t want to fantasize about what it would be like to save the world?

I’m not going to say that one genre is more important than the other, because I think we need all types of books because there are all types of readers. But realistic fiction is extremely important, not only to provide relatable characters in situations similar to readers’, but also to provide relatable characters in very different situations. Entering into a world of poverty or wealth or depression or anything different from their own circumstance can be enlightening and encouraging for young readers. Similarly, recognizing that characters have problems similar to theirs—and reading about how characters deal with them, or don’t—can be so healing for kids.

At the end of the day, no matter what the genre, I think a middle grade or young adult book is successful if it connects with a reader, if it makes her think without offering answers or preaching, and if it provides even a glimmer of hope.

Thanks, Nora, for hanging out on the blog yesterday and today!

Got questions for Nora? You know what to do. . . . While you ponder what questions to ask, I’ll leave you with this question from LOL Cats:

lolcatsdotcomaxdjl1t6rivbjr5u

Book covers from Goodreads. Lego people photos from fanpop.com and a-jenterprises.com.

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.

Nora_Carpenter_photo_2

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.

          1608540    2998

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.