One of These Things Is Not Like the Other


Remember the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things”? If you aren’t, check this out.

The other week I headed to GameStop to pick up Pokémon HeartGold. While I waited in line, the guy at the counter talked to an eager Fortnite player. If you’re not sure what Fornite is, click here.

  

Now, when you think of the average Fortnite player, what demographic comes to mind? If you have no idea, click here to view a chart on the average Fortnite player. A guy in the line behind me fit that exact profile.

But the person who talked to the store clerk didn’t. At all. Picture a grandmotherly type with white hair, a soft smile, and an equally soft voice. Someone who might read a picture book to sick toddler. Someone you might find behind the checkout desk of the library. Now picture her mowing down husks (zombie-like creatures) or other players in the game, Hunger Games-style. It almost breaks your brain, doesn’t it?

One of these things is not like the other. . . .

But there’s something about that image that delights me. Oh not necessarily the zombie destruction, though I have destroyed many a zombie in the video game, Plants versus Zombies, but the fact that it goes against what’s expected. I think that woman would make a great character in a book. I wish I’d talked to her, and asked her questions to learn more about her.

A character who surprises a reader in a good way is a delight to discover. I especially love quirky characters who are just being themselves. They aren’t shouting from the rooftops, “I’m quirky! Look at meeeeeeee!” They’re just quietly going about their business, like the woman at GameStop.

Who was the last person (a book character or a person in real life) who surprised and delighted you?

While you consider that, here is the moment you also may have been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of The Way the Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen. (See interview here.)

   

The winner of The Way the Light Bends is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen of Behind the Story!

Nicki, please confirm below. Thank you to all who commented.

Black Panther figure by Funko. Shopkins Cutie Car Perfume Le Zoom by Moose Toys. Shuri action figure by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie. The Sesame Street song lyrics can be found here. Pokémon Heart Gold image from pokemon.wikia.com. Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Plants versus Zombies image from somewhere on Pinterest.

No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

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This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

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First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Writing with Abandon

I’ll reveal the winner of Like Water on Stone by the amazing Dana Walrath in just a minute. But first . . .

greg_berlanti_headhotToday, I finished reading an article by Tim Stack in Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 5 issue). The subject: Greg Berlanti, the co-creator of The Flash and Arrow, hit shows for the CW. I could mention how an article like that is the perfect bathroom reading, but I wrote a post on that subject before. So I won’t go there now. (You get it? Go there? Okay, I hear you. Some puns shouldn’t exist.) Anyway, Greg is not only involved with the above mentioned shows, he has another hit show on NBC (The Mysteries of Laura) and is developing a show about Supergirl for CBS. If that’s not enough, he’ll be the head writer for the next Oscars broadcast. And that’s not all. The guy has a long list of projects for which he’s either a writer, co-creator, or executive producer. Just reading the article exhausted me. But after reading it, I realized that Berlanti exemplified what I’d discussed in my previous post—writing with abandon. Thanks, Greg!

The following quote struck me:

Berlanti has been a huge comic-book fan since he was young, and seeing him at work is like watching a kid play with his favorite superhero toys. . .except these action figures will be life-size when production starts. (44)

Love for what he’s doing seems to be the key to Berlanti’s quantity of projects. (That and opportunity.) Another plus in Berlanti’s favor is a testimonial from Chris Pratt, who was part of the cast of one of Berlanti’s past shows, Everwood: “He’s capable of showing real heart without being melodramatic.”

Passion. Real heart without melodrama. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to achieve that balance? It takes a delicate touch.

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Jordie hopes that someday a television show is developed about him. He has a cape ready just in case. He’s sure that his story has real heart, and not an ounce of melodrama.

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His first order of business: mopping the floor with his arch-nemesis: Hello Kitty (code name: HK). Don’t let the cupcake and the bow fool you. She’s wanted in fourteen states for being a supervillain. Coincidentally, she has seen her favorite movie, Megamind, fourteen times. Be afraid.

Megamind

Getting back to Greg Berlanti, whatever he’s doing seems to be working, judging by the many viewers his shows have earned. I’ve been meaning to watch The Flash and Arrow. Have you seen them? I’ll get around to them at some point. But for now, my time would be better spent doing what I’m passionate about: weaving works of a high fantasy nature and crocheting whimsical hats. As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make several hats like this in the coming weeks.

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Unlike HK above, this hat has no desire to take over the world. . . .  At least not that I know of. Be afraid.

And speaking of someone who writes with abandon, let’s get to the winner of Like Water on Stone by the multitalented Dana Walrath. (See interview here and here.)

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The winner is . . . (drumroll, please) . . .

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Jill Weatherholt, come on down! Please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all others who commented.

Stack, Tim. “The Man Behind the Masks.” Entertainment Weekly. 5 Dec. 2014: 42-46. Print.

Drumroll gif from cutenessoverflow.com. Greg Berlanti from hollywoodreporter.com.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Check This Out: My Book of Life by Angel (Part 2)

small_photoWelcome to the second part of the interview with the always fabulous Martine Leavitt. The first part is here if you missed it. I’m chatting with Martine about her awesome novel in verse, My Book of Life by Angel (Groundwood Books and FSG/Macmillan). I’ll discuss the giveaway for that at the end of today’s interview. So, let’s get biz-ay!

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El Space: Martine, let’s get back to how you began writing My Book of Life by Angel. What happened after you told your daughter that you didn’t think you could write the book?
Martine: A very short time later, I got a phone call from Vermont College of Fine Arts inviting me to apply to be on the faculty. They would pay me about a third of what I was currently making as a copyeditor. I said I would just love that.

El Space: Wow!
Martine: I was hired a couple weeks before the January 2008 residency. I hastily prepared a lecture, and then suffered over what I would read. I remembered as a student that I preferred hearing the raw, rough unpublished work faculty were working on over work that had been professionally edited. So I summoned my courage and read the only thing I had: some of that fifty pages of Angel.

vermont_college_of_fine_artsI would like to stop here and say that my colleagues at VCFA are the most gifted and generous souls I have ever met.

El Space: I agree!
Martine: They teach me as well as their students. They are not only good writers, they are the best kind of people. They and the students were enormously encouraging, and told me that I should write this book.

shapeimage_3I believe it was at that residency that Julie Larios introduced me to the whole debate about the novel in verse, of which I had known nothing. She said in a lecture, in essence, that she had doubts and deep reservations about the novel in verse, that it would be difficult if not impossible to write something that could be both poetry and novel.

I thought, Oh, so that’s why I’m having so much trouble!

Over the course of a couple of years I worked away at Angel. It was a dark place to live. I looked at my pile of papers sidelong and with dread. I wrestled with my angel, and more than once my hip was put out of joint.

El Space: Ah, like Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis.
Martine: Nevertheless, this character had seized me by the left and right ventricles. I knew her. She was mine. I loved her like my child. I was committed to telling her story.

Finally I sent it to my agent, Brenda Bowen, who had been an editor for twenty years. She had suggestions for revision. I rewrote and sent it back to her. She had more suggestions. I rewrote and sent it back to her.

shelley-tanakaShe felt it was ready for the unveiling. Margaret Ferguson at FSG bought it. Shelley Tanaka [photo at right] at Groundwood Books bought the Canadian rights. I had two of the most brilliant editors on the planet, and they were working together. Little did they know that it would take both their good brains to tackle this project.

Margaret sent me the first editorial letter. It was four pages long. Single spaced. The first sentence said, “Thank you for letting me publish your book.” That was it for praise. The rest was all about what needed still to be done.

poetry-ink-blotI worked hard, harder than I ever had. The poetry pulled me out of the story. The story sucked the poetry out of the pages. Every page had to have a beginning, middle, and end. Every page had to have a payoff. And yet it had to work as a whole. It was grueling and humbling, but finally, after several months, I sent it back to Margaret one hundred poems shorter than the original.

She sent me a three-page letter. The first sentence said, “You have done a good job of cutting this down.” The rest was all about what needed still to be done. She said the originally proposed publication date of spring 2012 would have to be pushed back to fall 2012.

El Space: Arrgh!
Martine: I worked hard. Some days I despaired. When I saw her at the residency, Shelley Tanaka touched my hand and said, “Poor Martine.”

She never said, “Poor Martine, never mind about all that work.” She never said that last part. She felt sorry for me, but not that sorry. Finally after some time, I sent back a revised manuscript.

I worked, I cut, I thought until my brain bled, and then, one day I realized that . . . I liked it. I liked my book. I sat up straight. I said, “I’m happy. This book makes me happy. And strong.” I might have heard angels singing. I sent it to Margaret and Shelley. Finally, finally, I got the long-hoped-for email saying, “Yes. We’re done here.” It was published six years after Keturah and Lord Death.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading Angel’s story?
Martine: That every little girl deserves an angel.

world-in-black-and-white-hands-1El Space: So true! Your characters have some difficult challenges to work through in your books. I’m curious about how you choose the stories you will tell. Do you have a recurring theme or themes you can trace through your books? If so, what? Why is this important to you?
Martine: I think a recurring question I ask in my books is this: Can language create reality? Isn’t story in charge of the world? If we write better stories, truer stories, could it be that we could change the world? I never get tired of asking that question, and the answer I come up with every time is yes. I just keep having to make sure the answer is yes.

El Space: It would be great if authors had big goals like changing the world as you say here. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Martine: Why do you want to be a writer? Surely by now you know that few of us make much money, to speak of. You will never be mobbed in the grocery store by fans clambering for your autograph. Is it because you must? Is it because you will die if you don’t? If the answer to those questions is yes, you don’t need any advice from me, but I will give you some anyway. Love the world, love the word, love your characters, love your readers, love the work. If you are not very good at loving any one of these things, you must change.

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El Space: Such great, thought-provoking questions and advice! So, what are you working on now?
Martine: After Angel, I wanted to work on something innocent and fun, so I wrote a middle-grade animal story. It is called Blue Mountain and it comes out this fall. Finally I wrote a book my grandchildren can read! I love it very much. I hope it changes the world.

I hope so too! Thank you, Martine, for being my guest!

If you’re a blog visitor and want to find out more about Martine, check out a fan-made page on Facebook and her publishers’ pages here and here.

My Book of Life by Angel is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books

I was going to give away one copy of My Book of Life by Angel to a commenter. But you know what? I’m going to give TWO copies of this book away. Yeah! That’s right! And guess what else? A third commenter will win a copy of the book that was life changing for me: Keturah and Lord Death. So go for it! Winners will be announced on Valentine’s Day! When you comment, please mention something you’d like to do to change the world.

Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Book covers from Goodreads. Poetry image from annawrites.com. No money sign from crazzzytravel.com. Hearts image from hdwallpapers.in. World image from strictlycoffee.co.za.

Check This Out: My Book of Life by Angel (Part 1)

Hola! Welcome (or bienvenidos if you prefer) to part 1 of an interview with the marvelous Martine Leavitt. Martine, an award-winning author of nine novels, is a member of the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. Her young adult novel, Keturah and Lord Death, made me want to enroll in the school and meet the author who wrote it. So I did!

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Martine, who is represented by Brenda Bowen, is here to discuss her novel in verse, My Book of Life by Angel (published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan). I’ll have a giveaway for that, but not until part 2 of the interview concludes. So, grab a seat, say hi to Martine, and let’s get started.

13160329First, here’s a synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Angel meets Call at the mall, he buys her meals and says he loves her, and he gives her some candy that makes her feel like she can fly. Pretty soon she’s addicted to his candy, and she moves in with him. As a favor, he asks her to hook up with a couple of friends of his, and then a couple more. Now Angel is stuck working the streets at Hastings and Main, a notorious spot in Vancouver, Canada, where the girls turn tricks until they disappear without a trace, and the authorities don’t care. But after her friend Serena disappears, and when Call brings home a girl who is even younger and more vulnerable than her to learn the trade, Angel knows that she and the new girl have got to find a way out.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself, Martine?
Martine: (1) I once had a goldfish that lived for 9½ years. I gave it to one of my children for his ninth birthday. He took care of it for a few years, but then he became a teenager and felt himself too busy. It became my job. Year after year I washed that aquarium out and fed the fish, and year after year it kept living. Its scales turned grey. It went blind. It sat on the bottom instead of swimming around. Twice the cat swiped it out of the tank. It just kept living. I confess that, a time or two, I wished it would go to the Golden Aquarium in the sky, but when it finally did die, I was sad. My youngest child asked if we could get another goldfish. I said no.

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(2) I have seven children and fifteen grandchildren.

150px-High_River_AB_logo(3) I live in a town called High River, Alberta, which was, last summer, at the epicenter of the largest natural disaster in Alberta’s history, and the costliest in Canadian history. The flood destroyed many homes and businesses in our community, and many of my friends suffered emotionally from the effects. My particular brand of neurosis became an evolutionary advantage for me, however. In the past, whenever I was stressed or upset, I would clean out closets, even though they were always clean, and throw things away, even when it was difficult to find things to throw away. It made me feel better. It has been a source of distress to my husband at times.

After the downstairs had been gutted following the flood, I went downstairs and looked around at the bare basement walls and I felt . . . happy. Clean! Unburdened! I was somewhat alarmed by this reaction—everyone else in town was in mourning. I went upstairs and googled, “What is the opposite of hoarding?” As it happens, there is a name for it: obsessive-compulsive spartanism. I do worry and fret and feel sad for my friends who are dealing with PTSD and depression, however.

(4) I’m afraid I can only summon three facts—I am actually a rather factless kind of person. On paper I sound boring, but in reality I find life to be breathtakingly exciting.

El Space: I think you’re awesome! But how awful about that flood. I remember hearing about it. Life takes some sad turns sometimes. . . . So what inspired you to write My Book of Life by Angel?
Martine: I had written two books about homeless boys: Tom Finder and Heck Superhero. I knew, as I was researching for these books, that I must one day write a book about a homeless girl. I also knew that I couldn’t really write the book honestly unless I dealt with the subject of prostitution.

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Of the 450,000 young people who run away every year, about a third of them are lured into prostitution within about 48 hours. When you’re vulnerable and hungry and cold and lonely and scared, and the only thing you have to barter for survival is your body, it can happen rather quickly. As I did my research on prostitution, I alternated between rage and heartbreak. That this form of abuse and slavery should be tolerated in our society is unthinkable. I wanted to change the world, but all I wrote was a book. I wanted my book to change the world, but now I sit here and realize that the book has been out for a year and it didn’t change the world and maybe not even the life of a single girl, and I see that slowly it will disappear from the shelves and all the blood I sweat and the tears I cried to write that book might be for nothing. I am getting old now so I can say things like this.

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El Space: You can still change the world with this book, Martine. Angel’s life is pretty harrowing, but you’ve provided an honest depiction of a horrible existence. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? How long did it take you to write it?
Martine: Years. I wrote some of the poems as far back as 2003. I had thought that the poems must have been simply a pre-writing strategy, an entrance into the story. Often my stories begin with words on little pieces of scrap paper that, if moved around, could sound like poetry. But as I began to write Angel’s story, the pages refused to stop being poetry or at least something like unto it. So I honored that artistic impulse and I wrote poems. I wrote and wrote until I broke my heart and I stopped. I had fifty pages. Fifty poems.

That was it. I stopped. I didn’t want to write this book. I didn’t want to live there. Not strong enough. Not happy enough. I had no control over these poems. They weren’t becoming a story. I was attentive to the language; I played with form. But I couldn’t make a story at the same time.

I have an adult daughter who loves to rifle through my private things. She likes to read my journals and my computer files and my emails. We have an unspoken agreement: I won’t be offended if she won’t confront me with anything she shouldn’t know. One day she came upstairs crying. She said, “I just finished reading your Angel story, and Mom, you have to write that book.” I said, “We have an agreement.” I said, “I don’t know how to write that book.”

We’re going to have to break here. I know. Awwwwww. Be sure to come back tomorrow to hear more about Angel’s story and to visit with Martine Leavitt. If you can’t wait to hear more about Angel’s story, My Book of Life by Angel is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books

Book covers from Goodreads. Goldfish photo and High River logo from Wikipedia. Statistics photo from catholicsun.org.