Check This Out: The Way the Light Bends

Before I continue with today’s post, let me first say that thoughts and prayers are with those who live in the areas affected by Hurricane Florence. Florence, you have outstayed your welcome. Go away!

Now, please join me in welcoming back to the blog the awesome Cordelia Jensen. She was here not long ago with Laurie Morrison to talk about their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing. (Click here for that interview.) Today, she’s here to talk about her young adult verse novel, The Way the Light Bends, which was published by Philomel Books earlier this year.

      

Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe. Okay, let’s strap on our gab bag and talk to Cordelia!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Cordelia: (1) I grew up in Manhattan where Skyscraping and The Way the Light Bends take place.
(2) Currently, I live in a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia where Every Shiny Thing, the MG book I co-authored with my friend Laurie Morrison, takes place.


(3) I’m the mom of boy-girl twins. They just started seventh grade! Eep!
(4) Along with an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, I have a MEd in School Counseling and a certificate in Family Therapy. Although I don’t actively use my counseling degree, I do think it comes in handy as an author!

El Space: You are having a busy year, with the release of Every Shiny Thing, and The Way the Light Bends. What, if anything, did you find most challenging in the writing of your verse novel?
Cordelia: The book was sold on proposal and I had never done that before. So, it went through a lot of different drafts and stages. At one point, which you know already since you read it at that stage, the book was actually a dual POV between the two sisters, Linc and Holly. Probably the hardest part of the process was writing Holly’s POV and then cutting it. But, in the end, it helped me get to know her so much better and I hope the book reads more authentically from me having spent that much time getting to know Holly’s journey.

El Space: Linc and Holly’s relationship as sisters is very poignant, as is Linc’s relationship with their mom. Please tell us how you came to write about these relationships and their conflicts.
Cordelia: The idea for the book first came to me from hearing a story on NPR about Seneca Village. When I heard the story, I immediately saw two sisters—one white, one black; one biological, one adopted—wandering Central Park. I knew they used to be close but were very disconnected and that part of the work of the story would be them finding each other again.

When my twins were little, I used to write articles for a publication about multiples and once I interviewed “virtual twins” for one of these articles. That idea of kids being just a few months a part but raised in the same home as twins, always stayed with me as a really fascinating family dynamic. Competition is often an issue in a twin dynamic and I guess I think that can often be encouraged or discouraged due to parental style. In this case, I wanted to write about a parent who favored one girl so much over another that she was doing serious damage to virtually everyone in the family. The mom is clearly the antagonist in The Way the Light Bends, although it feels to Linc sometimes that Holly is I think. The reasons behind the mom’s behavior though wasn’t clear to me from the beginning. I had to write myself into a place of understanding her and her behavior.

This story is about sisters but, in a way, it is almost as much about how parents can impact the self-esteem of their children.

El Space: Linc is a photographer. I loved the photography imagery you used in the titles of the poems and elsewhere in the book. Why did you choose that art form for Linc?
Cordelia: Thanks! It was fun to learn more about photography, as my mom is a professional photographer, but I didn’t know a lot about the technicalities of the art before writing The Way the Light Bends. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I chose it. When her character came with me, her camera came too!

El Space: When we talked about your other novel in verse, Skyscraping (click here for that interview), you mentioned that astronomy was a theme, and that playing with space in poetry is important. What was important to you theme-wise in this book? Why?
Cordelia: It was very important in this book that the verse reflected Linc’s imaginative and artistic personality and viewpoint. So, I played with white space even more than I normally do and saw some of the image construction as actually the way she sees the world—if that makes sense. Like, there is less metaphor, though there is some, and more of a fantastical way of actually seeing the world. Sort of like La La Land, where it is harder to distinguish what is happening and what is in the character’s imagination. I also played around more with fonts!

El Space: You teach creative writing. What to you are the ingredients of a great verse novel? Or are those easy to pinpoint? Why or why not?
Cordelia: I think any verse novel needs to use poetic elements to create an overall narrative to be considered one. I think a great verse novel has to play with white space, play with language, and use imagery, while having a strong handle on plot, setting, character development, etc.

El Space: Who are some authors who inspire you?
Cordelia: I guess my favorite authors write lyrical, coming-of-age stories that are both beautiful and sad. So, I love writers like An Na and Jandy Nelson. I also have really enjoyed Celeste Ng’s books, though she technically writes for adults.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Cordelia: I have started a middle grade book, a young adult book, and a picture book—all in verse! And Laurie and I are also working on collaborating on a project again.

Thank you, Cordelia, for being my guest.

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

The Way the Light Bends can be found at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Big Blue Marble Bookstore. But one of you will be given a copy of this verse novel just for commenting. I will say it in rhyme!

One of you will win this book.
Leave a comment that’s worth a look.
Come on the twenty-fourth, and you will see
who the winner of the book will be.

Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Book covers from Goodreads. Camera image from cliparting.com. lifeasahuman.com. Seneca Village images from roadtrippers.com and Pinterest.com. La La Land movie poster from backstageol.com.

Check This Out: Skyscraping

If you were around the blog last year, you’ll remember the cover reveal for Skyscraping, the young adult verse novel by yet another friend and classmate: the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Well, Skyscraping, published by Philomel/Penguin, launched into the world on June 2. And Cordelia is here to talk about it.

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Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. Want to read a synopsis of Skyscraping? Sure you do. Click here.

El Space: Congratulations on the outstanding reviews you received for Skyscraping. Well deserved! I find it interesting that in Spanish mira means “look” and the book centers around something Mira [the narrator] saw. Was the name choice deliberate?
Cordelia: Well, in a way. I like that Mira sounds like mirror and that she is reflective as a person. And that there are a lot of reflection images in the book and, personally, that the story is sort of a distorted reflection of my own life. Her name used to be Lia, which was a part of my name CordeLIA. All the characters were named from parts of actual names of my family members. But somewhere in the revision, my editor suggested I change everyone’s names so I would have an easier time separating story from reality and, therefore, able to make more objective revisions.

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Cordelia’s June 6 book launch party at Mt. Airy Read & Eat in Philadelphia. Bandage on hand courtesy of a badminton accident. (Photos by I. W. Gregorio.)

I quickly chose Miranda as the name for the main character because my mom almost named me that. I also like that Miranda, like Cordelia, is a Shakespearean name. It is from The Tempest, which involves a charged father-daughter relationship as Cordelia has with her father in King Lear.

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My sister suggested Mira as a nickname, which I liked when I found out its meaning, which in English is “wonder.” This works thematically with the journey quality of the story. Furthermore, there’s a binary star named Mira, which is just perfect for the identity shifts in the book. For another name example, April used to be Jewel for my sister Julia, but I renamed her April because it means “open,” which is a defining part of that character’s personality.

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Mira

El Space: Also interesting is the fact that you mentioned The Odyssey in this book and Mira goes through a difficult odyssey of her own that I don’t want to spoil here. But I’d like to hear about the odyssey of turning what was once a memoir into a fiction story. How were you able to separate your journey from Mira’s?
MQpictureblackshirtCordelia: It was pretty hard to do at certain points. I first began fictionalizing my story under the advisement of the great Mary Quattlebaum [left]. Together, she and I constructed an arc based on some themes I knew I wanted to play around with: trying to stop time, safety/risk, running away/coming home. My talented friend Laurie Morrison actually was the one to suggest I frame the story in a year’s time, which was a huge grounding idea behind the book. It also is how I began to really fictionalize the book, because my own father was HIV positive since 1986 and was really very sick the years 1992-94, whereas Mira’s dad is sick for a relatively short period of time. Condensing the story is how I started to make it its own thing.

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Throughout VCFA and working with my excellent editor, Liza Kaplan, there were subplots that were cut or added; some characters are quite similar to the actual people, some very different. For example, originally the character of Adam was loosely based on my boyfriend at the time, but he became SO different as the drafts changed. I can’t say more without giving a lot away. BUT that is the beauty of fictionalizing something—you have that ability to have your story take unanticipated directions while maintaining an authentic emotional arc. At different points I had to take out all of the dialogue, cut two secondary characters. I started the whole book over and then in the final revision cut sixty pages from the beginning of the book. The odyssey of the revisions is hard to sum up! There were so many! Fortunately, Liza is so skilled as an editor and the book really is so much better from having made all those changes.

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Mt. Airy photo booth props from the 90s

El Space: Everything really works together! Mira chose the theme of space for the yearbook. And Mira gives herself space from her family and friends, which you show through the spacing used in these poems. How is space—on the page, emotional, or in the astronomical sense—important to you?
Cordelia: Playing with space is an essential component in poetry and in verse novels. Melanie Crowder just wrote a lovely blog post where she interviews many verse novelists on their use of white space. Here’s the link to that: http://cleareyesfullshelves.com/blog/melanie-crowder. I love how a poet can use white space in the way a sculpter uses it or a painter. This is something you really can’t do as much in prose and it adds a whole different layer of emotional depth.

The reason I chose astronomy as the theme for the book was because I actually took an astronomy class senior year. I wrote a few poems, including “Supernova” and “Something Stellar” and understood that it might make sense to write the whole book with this image system.

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Photo at left by Laura Sibson; photo at right by Jane Rosenberg

I think the feeling of being crowded and having no physical space and yet feeling so anonymous, like you have all this emotional distance from those around you, is also how I felt as a kid growing up in NYC. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and unknown. I think Mira—who, unlike me, really loves NYC at the beginning of this book—suddenly notices space, the space up and around her as her life crashes. In the book we are closely connected to her as she reexamines all the spaces around her.

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El Space: How did you come to choose the verse novel format as the vehicle to tell this story?
Cordelia: I showed Coe Booth, my VCFA advisor my first semester, five of my “family poems” as I called them at the time. She loved them and introduced me to the YA verse novel genre. She was the one who suggested I write a memoir in verse. I compiled about sixty of these poems before I made the decision to fictionalize the piece.

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El Space: I’m curious about the phrase let the butterflies into your heart from page 10. Is that your own invention or was that something someone said to you? What does that mean for you now?
Cordelia: It is actually adapted from a line from one of my favorite picture books, If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. I think as someone who is prone towards getting nervous, especially about new things or transitions, it is a saying I hold on to, so I liked the idea of the dad having that advice for his kids.

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El Space: Looking at two lines from your book—In just two days / we launch—I can’t help wondering what launched you into young adult books. You went to Vermont College of Fine Arts. But what made you choose writing for children and young adults?
Cordelia: I actually don’t think I would’ve gone to get my MFA in anything else. I already had a Master’s in Education in Counseling and I didn’t think I would get another Master’s. However, I had recently written a Middle Grade camp novel manuscript after being a camp counselor for eleven summers. Around that time I was standing in my kitchen with my author friend Dan Torday and he mentioned the MFA program at VCFA and I was like, “WHAT??? You can go to school to write for kids and teens?” My heart started racing and I applied that night. I love working with kids of any age and it is really the only population I am interested in writing for. Though of course that might change someday.

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Daniel Torday, author of The Last Flight of Poxl West and head of the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College (where Cordelia teaches), introduces Cordelia.

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More photo booth props

El Space: Which authors inspired you when you were a teen? How do you, in turn, inspire the young authors you meet in your workshops?
Cordelia: I loved e.e. cummings’s poems when I was a teen. He taught me how you can play with words and still write “serious poetry.” I also loved the beautiful, sad, and haunting books by Pat Conroy. Loved that Southern drama! I was always into the family saga like The Thorn Birds and I, Claudius. It didn’t matter the decade as long as it was essentially a soap opera. I liked escaping into other complicated worlds.

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In terms of being a creative writing teacher, I hope I inspire my students to experiment with language and character, to let go of self-consciousness and just write. But really what I’m most interested in—and maybe this comes from my counseling background—is building confidence. I love giving caring feedback to young writers, pointing out their strengths and areas to work on. I also LOVE making up writing games and exercises. I do this with students—both young and undergrads—a lot.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Cordelia: I have two other manuscripts that are done—one a verse novel and another that is more of a mystery. The one I am working on now is sort of a ghost story/historical fiction. For the first time, I am trying to go slower with my first draft—doing lots of free writing in a notebook on the side. I also love writing picture books. I have a bunch of those that I work on sometimes.

El Space: Thanks, Cordelia, for being such a great guest.
Cordelia: Thanks for having me and being such a great host, Linda!

Searching for Cordelia? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Skyscraping is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Big Blue Marble Bookstore

But I’m giving away some sweet swag that includes a signed copy of Skyscraping.

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Yeah, baby! Comment below to be entered in the drawing! You might share a memory from the 90s, since that is the era of Skyscraping. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Book covers from Goodreads. Skyscraping cover courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Mira photo from xtec.cat. Mt. Airy photos and 90s props by Jane Rosenberg unless otherwise attributed. New York skyline from the 1990s from designsatire.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.