Running Out of Space

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Space Series

The awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann is no stranger to this blog, to the blogosphere, or the publishing world. Her latest novel, Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), has been released to critical acclaim. Now Lyn is working not just on another novel but a graphic novel as well. And she’s here today with part 4 of the Space Series. (The first post in the series can be found here, the second here, and the third here.)

I have a dilemma. I am running out of space.

The table that has housed my Lego community, Little Brick Township, is already full. Everything fits perfectly in a tight circle around Town Hall, the seat of power that embodies conflict in my stories.

photo of town with no spaceThat’s right. Not an inch to spare for a new building.

Now, Lego has announced the release of an adorable Parisian Restaurant that reminds me less of restaurants in Paris than those in Lisbon, with the narrow exterior staircase that leads to surprising new spaces as one climbs uphill.

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In addition, I want to put in a canal along my main street to evoke Amsterdam, one of my other favorite cities. And once the canal is in, I need a houseboat. Lego doesn’t make Amsterdam-style houseboats, so I plan to use Jabba’s Sail Barge as the basis for a MOC (My Own Creation).

LEGO-Star-Wars-Summer-2013-75020-Jabbas-Sail-BargeWhile I need to expand my space, my husband wants to move from our house in Albany to an apartment in New York City, where space is at a premium. I could rent artist studio space for my “installation,” but I have so far earned $20 as a visual artist, and the stratospheric payouts that some YA authors enjoy have so far eluded me.

Right now, the future of Little Brick Township is all about making choices. The same goes for writing.

When I begin a novel, the possibilities seem endless. I have dozens of characters in my head and a lot of things to say. One of my biggest weaknesses is focus—having too many characters and trying to address too many themes at once. It hurts me to have to give up a character, but readers have trouble keeping too many characters in mind, and the truth is, characters have to do more than one thing to earn their keep. So I combine characters and save the one I gave up for the next book.

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Uh-oh. A traffic jam.

The same goes for theme. It’s tempting to address all the issues people are talking about nowadays. After all, they’re on the characters’ minds too, and complex characters have complex lives. But these, too, have to be pared down so that the reader can concentrate on what’s most important about the story. In the course of revising Rogue over eighteen months, I had to take out multiple plot threads and themes, all of them related to the secondary characters, so that the reader’s focus would remain on my protagonist, Kiara, and her search for a friend (her external desire) and her own special power (her internal desire).

NaNoWriMo begins in about a week. This is our chance to write away, dreaming of all the possible places our characters can take us. However, there comes a time when we have to make choices for what works in our story, what the central themes and conflicts are, and who is most important to be around for the particular journey of our main character. The rest needs to be chopped out in the revision stage, perhaps to appear in the next story. In writing as in Lego towns, there’s simply no space to have it all.

Parisian Restaurant from legogenre.com; Jabba’s Sail Barge from brickextra.com.

And the Winner Is . . .

Just a quick post to announce the winner of a signed copy of Rogue by the wonderful Lyn Miller-Lachmann. If you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, go here and here first.

We spared no expense, and used the latest in scientific technology to make our selection. (We drew a name out of a hat.)

The winner is . . .

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Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

LAURIE MORRISON!!!!

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Congratulations, Laurie! Please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to accept your prize and to provide your snail mail address. Also, please include how you would like the book personalized.

Thanks again to all who commented during Lyn’s book discussion. See you next time! (Cue theme music.)

Images from hedenkamppta.wordpress.com, selectedshorts.org, and bookfanmary.wordpress.com.

Check This Out: Rogue (Part 2)

We’re back with the awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann! Let’s get ready to rock!

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Lyn’s latest novel, Rogue, debuts TODAY! Woot!

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To celebrate, we’re giving away ONE SIGNED COPY of Rogue!!! Yeah, baby! More on that later.

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El Space: Happy Release Day, Lyn! What do you hope readers will take away from Rogue?
Lyn: If you are the kind of young person I was growing up—isolated, often excluded from activities, feeling that you don’t fit in or the other kids don’t care about you—this novel will show you that you are not alone. I’m not going to say that it all gets better when you grow up, because I continue to struggle with isolation, exclusion, and miscommunication, but the things that make you different can also lead to joy and accomplishment. You need to find the things that make you happy, and through your unusual skills and interests, you will find a place in the world.

Erika, a teen reader from California, wrote, “It was interesting to see how someone who is usually looked down upon in society is finally given a chance to show who they are.” People who have special needs and challenges usually have a different way of seeing the world, and their ideas may be the key to solving a difficult problem. We don’t move forward if we all think alike and agree with each other. Often, it takes the outsider—the one who sees the world in a different way—to suggest the solution.

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Part of Lyn’s Lego city

El Space: What would you say to your teenage self if you could?
Lyn: I was a straight-A student, but it was hard for me to concentrate in school because of bullying. Because I saw my A’s as the only measure of my worth, I sought out the easiest classes—the ones where I could get an A without expending too much mental energy—and skipped subjects like advanced math and physics, which interested me but seemed too hard. Now, most of my characters—Kiara; the protagonist of Gringolandia, Daniel; and the main character of my current work-in-progress—are all into science, math, or engineering. I see this as a kind of wish fulfillment, which we, as writers, get to do in our stories (as long as we don’t overdo it). However, I’d like to tell my teenage self that if you love science, math, and physics, pursue them, and look for support among your teachers and other caring adults both within and outside of school.

El Space: What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book with an autistic character?
Lyn: There’s a saying, “When you’ve met one person with autism . . . you’ve met one person with autism.” Avoid stereotyping—assuming that everyone on the autism spectrum shares the same characteristics and behaviors. Kiara, for instance, is basically an extroverted person who wants to connect with others and have friends. The stereotypical portrayal of someone like her on the spectrum, however, is of a person who is withdrawn and has social anxiety. That’s not true of all of us. Like Kiara, I saw myself as outgoing and friendly. I wanted to be in the middle of things, rather than always on the outside looking in. By the time I finished high school, I had experienced so much bullying that I wanted nothing to do with my fellow students. I just wanted to leave town and never come back.

To the best of my knowledge, Rogue is the only novel for young readers featuring a protagonist on the autism spectrum that is written by someone on the autism spectrum. A lot of the novels with characters on the autism spectrum are written by parents, siblings, or other close family members, or by educators who work with children with special needs. For that reason, they do show an understanding of the diversity of backgrounds and personalities, but whether we’re writing from the outside or from the inside, all of us need to be aware of the baggage that we bring.

For more information on the pitfalls of creating characters with autism and other developmental and emotional disabilities, check out the essay I wrote for the Children’s Book Council’s Diversity 101 blog.

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Lyn signing books at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival (May 4). Photo by Nancy Castaldo.

El Space: What genre would you like to tackle next?
Lyn: After finishing Rogue, I returned to YA with a very intense novel about a boy living in poverty who loses his place in an elite academic program and his shot at a college scholarship after sustaining a severe concussion as a result of a bullying incident. Now that that project, titled Ants Go Marching, is done, I’m trying my hand at humor in a middle grade novel with a boy protagonist.

Humor is a challenge for me, because having Asperger’s, I don’t get a lot of other people’s jokes, and things I find funny often don’t have the same effect on others. But my main character in my current work-in-progress (which has the tentative title of Krill) is close to the autism spectrum, if not on it, and his friend and co-conspirator is definitely on it. The humor comes from the situations they get themselves into, because they’re great with computers, but clueless when it comes to matters of the human heart. The story also has a somewhat European sensibility, because I started it when I was living in Portugal, and I also read a lot of middle grade novels in translation.

And that’s a wrap! Thanks again, Lyn, for being a gracious and inspiring guest!

ALL commenters will be entered in a random drawing for a signed copy of Rogue. You must comment TODAY, however. The winner will be announced on May 19. For those who don’t win, Rogue is available here:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Powell’s Books
Anderson’s Bookshop

You can find Lyn at her website or on Twitter: @LMillerLachmann.

Book release image from roamingthroughromance.com. For another great interview with Lyn, check out Through The Wardrobe.

Check This Out: Rogue (Part 1)

Welcome back to the blog! With me today is another wonderful friend from VCFA: Lyn Miller-Lachmann—author of the critically acclaimed Gringolandia (Curbstone Books 2009), teacher, blogger, and Lego enthusiast. Welcome, Lyn! Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

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Lyn’s latest novel, Rogue, debuts mañana, so I’m thrilled that she’s here on the blog not one, but two days. Woot!

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Here’s a quick synopsis of Rogue, published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin:

Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.

When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.

In Rogue, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann celebrates everyone’s ability to discover and use whatever it is that makes them different.

El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Lyn: I was just approved for my own show on WRPI, so in addition to being the assistant host of Los Vientos del Pueblo, which features Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history, I will now have a world music show on Sunday evening. I have constructed an entire Lego city with a dystopian underworld, and I recently added an entertainment district to the city.

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Lyn’s city

I spent fall 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal, fell in love with the city, and am trying to find a way to live there again. I took a class in Portuguese this spring, which the professor taught through creative writing, and I wrote a 16-page short story entirely in Portuguese.

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Lyn and her husband and colleagues in Lisbon

El Space: Lyn, you always were an awesome DJ! The fact that you’re a hard worker was obvious when we first started at VCFA. You make me feel lazy with all of your accomplishments. Congratulations on that radio show, by the way. Now, let’s talk about your middle grade novel. How did the title for Rogue come about?
Lyn: This novel changed titles multiple times. My agent submitted it as Kiara Rules, but a boy in my seventh grade Sunday school class said, “This is the kind of book I’d read, but not if it has a girl’s name in the title and pink on the cover.” The publisher chose Rogue because she is the X-Men character with whom Kiara is obsessed, and Kiara is herself a “rogue”—an outsider who has trouble following society’s rules.

El Space: Rogue is my favorite of the X-Men, so I’m all for the title. How has the shifting information we have about Asperger’s syndrome helped or hindered the path to the publication of Rogue?
Lyn: The debate over classifying Asperger’s syndrome under the broad category of autism, rather than a separate diagnosis, definitely helped sell the manuscript. I had a letter published in The New York Times about this topic, shortly before the book sold to Penguin, expressing my concern that those diagnosed with Asperger’s continue to receive the support and accommodation that has allowed many of us to succeed in school and in the workplace.

I feel that I took a big risk “coming out” as someone on the autism spectrum—I’ve had the official diagnosis since 2008—but social skills are key to success in so many endeavors, and discrimination still exists. I hope that Rogue will open people’s eyes to what all of us can contribute to the world, even if we have trouble fitting in and aren’t exactly social butterflies.

El Space: How much of your experience informed the writing of Rogue?
Lyn: Many of the incidents in the novel are variations of things that happened to me. In the first chapter, Kiara figures that if she sits at the popular girls’ table, she too will be popular. I too thought that would happen, but when I set my lunch tray on the table, one of the popular girls pushed it to the floor. It’s one of those moments from middle school that you never forget, but I didn’t react in the same way Kiara did when the popular girl pushed her tray to the floor. I wish I had, but I was too afraid, and thus continued to get stepped on all the way through middle grade and high school.

Also drawn from my experience is the moral choice that Kiara has to make—to keep Chad’s secret about his family’s business in order to keep Chad as a friend, at times even abetting what the family is doing—or break off the relationship and tell someone. When I first got my driver’s license, I unwittingly became a conduit for popular kids in the grade below me who were buying and selling drugs. For me, the worst part was realizing that these kids didn’t want me in their clique. They didn’t want to be my friends; they were only using me to get what they wanted.

I hate to stop here, but I have to for today. Don’t give me those puppy eyes! Tune in again tomorrow for more of my discussion with Lyn. Meanwhile, you can find Lyn at her website or follow her on Twitter: @LMillerLachmann.

Rogue is available at these fine establishments:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Powell’s Books
Anderson’s Bookshop