Check This Out: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Today Sarah Aronson is in the hizz-ouse. She is an author, teacher, mentor, and all around awesome person. She wears a ton of hats, some I haven’t even mentioned! She’s here to talk about book 1 in her Wish List middle grade series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! which was published by Scholastic with covers illustrated by Heather Burns.

      

Sarah has written these young adult novels . . .

   

. . . and is represented by Sarah Davies. Now, please give it up for Sarah!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sarah: I am the oldest of three sisters, but was no Clotilda!
My first favorite book was The Carrot Seed. I am still an effort girl—not so much into momentum.


I met my husband when I mistook him for someone else, and before I could stop myself, kissed him on the cheek.

I am very fond of shoes! And handbags!

El Space: This book is very different from your other novels. What inspired you to write it?
Sarah: A lot of people have been asking me that. The short answer is, I wrote this for myself. For fun! The idea made me laugh. I like the idea of fairy godmothers, and I wanted to see if they still fit into my feminist mindset. When I thought about them, I realized: they didn’t do that much! And that today’s princess needed a godmother with more skills. Training was imperative!

But I also wrote it because I had come to a turning point in my writing life. Up until September 2014, I was a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikable characters, themes filled with conflicts, questionable morals, provocative endings. Although I found these books grueling to write, I told myself that the work was worth it—these characters and ideas were calling me. And up until then I felt pretty good about it. I had a great agent. There were editors willing to read my next WIP. My family might have been confused about why I wrote such dark, sad books, but they supported me. 100%. I was not deterred by the mixed reception my last novel received.

That changed, when I got some bad news that had followed other bad news: the editor who loved my newest WIP—a story I had taken two years to write—could not get it past the acquisitions committee. The novel needed to go in a drawer. I began to doubt myself. I don’t know a writer who hasn’t experienced doubt and fear, and yet, when it happened to me, I felt unprepared. I wondered if perhaps my writing career was coming to a close.

Lucky for me, I was at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, and I was surrounded by friends. I also had the best kind of work to do—writers to counsel—writers who trusted me to help them work on their novels. I had to get over myself fast. I had to stop worrying about my ego. Product. News. All those obstacles. I had to embrace creativity the way I had when I first started writing.

So right there, I gave myself a challenge: For the next six months, I was going to PLAY. I was going to reclaim my intuitive voice. I wasn’t going to worry at all about finishing anything.

My only goal was to work on projects that made me happy—books that my ego had convinced me I couldn’t/shouldn’t write: picture books, humor, essays, an adult novel, poetry, and most important, my peach sorbet: a chapter book about a very bad fairy godmother. For six months, I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to focus on accessing my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music and having fun. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it. I was going to eat dessert first. In other words: think less. Smile more.

In my newsletter, i wrote about this a lot. How freeing it was. How happy I felt to be writing for the sake of story and nothing else.

When I was done, I had written a lot of terrible manuscripts. But some held promise. I dipped back into the revision cave. When i was done, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever sold. So did a picture book biography about Rube Goldberg. And I was once again a writer with a lot of energy and ideas.

El Space: Please tell us about the girlgoyles—what they are, and how you came up with them.
Sarah: The girlgoyles came from a great moment of inspiration. Isabelle’s safe space—her cozy spot—is up at the top of Grandmomma’s tower. I pictured that tower like the churches of France and England—with ornate architecture. And gargoyles. Of course, this was a world of all women and girls. I couldn’t believe it—they weren’t gargoyles. They were girlgoyles!!! Even they don’t talk—they can’t, they’re made of rock—they are Isabelle’s friends. They’re really good listeners.

   
Illustrations by Heather Burns

El Space: How is Isabelle, your fairy godmother protagonist, like you? Different from you?
Sarah: Oh, my mom would love to answer this one!!! But since she’s not here, I’ll tell you: I was not the best student. I still have a hard time paying attention and I never read the fine print. I learn more by doing. Just like Isabelle, I can be a bit impulsive. And just like Nora, I can take things WAY too seriously!

El Space: In a Psychology Today article, “Why We All Need a Fairy Godmother,” the author gave some characteristics for the ideal fairy godmother:

The fairy godmother (or “guidemother”—or, for that matter,“guidefather”) that I have in mind here is one that would encompass a broad array of caring, nurturant qualities: such as empathy, compassion, understanding, trustworthiness, and respect.

I couldn’t help thinking of the list on the synopsis for your book. Why do you think fairy godmothers are such nurturing icons in literature?
Sarah: In theory, I think we all love the idea of a fairy godmother, a nurturing character that makes us happy and wants nothing else in return. But the truth is, there is nothing more satisfying than making the world better! Already, I have spoken to readers who want to be real-life fairy godmothers. I made a Wish Wall for families and classrooms who want to establish “Be a Fairy Godmother” programs.


I believe that today’s fairy godmother needs compassion and kindness, but also gusto! A big, big heart is essential, too. When you think about it, it’s sort of like writing a book!

El Space: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
Sarah: First, I hope they laugh! I laughed a lot writing it. But to be serious, I hope they’re excited about sharing the sparkle and helping each other!!! Today’s world needs fairy godmothers. Empathy makes us all happily ever after. Right?

El Space: Yup! What will you work on next?
Sarah: Well, we just released the cover of book two, Keep Calm and Sparkle On! I’m getting ready to revise book three, and book four is not far away. I’ve also got a picture book biography to finish and a brand new peach sorbet to play with. For now, that’s a secret!

Thank you, Sarah, for being such an inspiring guest!

Want to find Sarah online? Check out her website, Facebook, Twitter.

The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

But I will be a fairy godmother to one of you! Poof! You’ll find a copy of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! at your home! But first, you have to comment to be entered in the drawing! Winner to be announced on June 19.

Lippy Lulu and Kirstea are excited about Sarah’s series. They’re wondering how they can get a fairy godmother.

Author photo and Wish List series covers courtesy of the author. Other book covers Goodreads. Fairy godmother from clipsarts.co. Magic wand from clker.com. Creativity image from weerbaarheidlimburg.nl. Peach sorbet photo from dessertbulletblog.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls Kirstea and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Constructive or Destructive?

Charles Yallowitz kindly tagged me for the first post challenge. (You can read his first post by clicking on the preceding words.) But since I was too lazy to think about who to tag or even to search through the files for my post, I’m going with this post instead. Thanks anyway, Charles.

A few days ago, my sister-in-law and I watched one of those reality shows—Four Weddings (which always makes me think of the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral). On this show, four brides-to-be agree to attend the wedding of each of her fellow brides and critique it based on a point system. The highest scoring bride gains a dream honeymoon.

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Well, you can see the conflict already. Since each bride vies for the honeymoon package, of course she’ll sabotage the others by voting down perfectly reasonable choices. And though you’ll hear comments like, “Oh, I LOVED that she had a bacon bar at her reception! LOVED her gown—soooooo beautiful,” when asked to vote on the overall experience (with 10 as the maximum), the critiquing bride-to-be will say, “I gave her a 5 out of 10, because she had an outdoor wedding, and I hate the outdoors.”

I got angry while watching the episode, because the person who scored everyone else the lowest and was generally the most caustic won the honeymoon. Guess her tactical maneuvering paid off.

Ugh. This show gave me flashbacks to some of my undergraduate writing workshops where we were supposed to critique each other’s work. The professor was the editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine. Some students inclined toward toadyism were blistering in their critiques. “Insipid,” “dull,” “terrible dialogue”—you name it, I’ve heard it. Thanks to that experience, when I graduated, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to write again. Amazingly, I continued, but not right away.

So you can imagine my trepidation upon entering a graduate school writing program. I don’t claim to be a masochist. But I can understand someone thinking I have that tendency, since workshops are par for the course in the program.

Recently, three people called my attention to this Buzzfeed article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/shannonreed/jane-austen-receives-feedback-from-tim-a-guy-in-her-mfa-work#.ae0XKlORe

Though humorous, this post encapsulates my belief about workshops when I signed up for the program. I dreaded getting this kind of feedback when I attended my first workshop. To my relief, however, rules were given about the constructive criticism expected. One of the rules made a huge impression on me (and I’m paraphrasing it here): “The goal is to help the person to be excited about diving back into the piece after it is critiqued.”

To foster this, everyone had to comment on what was good about the piece before any comments of a constructively critical nature could be made. This was a nice way to build up an author. Perhaps that’s why many of the published debut books I’ve seen from graduates of the program were books started during the program. Now, that says something about the power of words to build someone up instead of words to tear someone down.

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Yes, there’s value to constructive criticism. Posting caustic comments, however, has become a sport on Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, and other places. Many people are angry for various reasons, and seem to delight in tearing someone else down with their words. Words that blister say more about the speaker than they do about the person targeted. If we have to rip someone apart to get ahead or gain attention, what do we really gain in the long run?

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Bridal bouquet from home.adelphi.edu. Thin skin meme from memecenter.com. Mother Teresa quote from sawdustcityllc.com.

Beauty to Behold

Recently some good friends of mine told me they’ll be taking a much needed family vacation to the Caribbean. This will mean leaving me behind, no matter how much I make puppy eyes at them and beg them to take me. I’m pretty sure I could fit in someone’s suitcase if they leave all of their clothes behind.

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Since I can’t go with them, I decided to take a vacation on the grounds of my apartment building. Every day I have a front row seat.

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Let me show you the sights to be seen.

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Tree

I’m not responsible for the care of the flowers and trees. If I were, they would be dead by now. I lack a green thumb.

Still, the sunny day made a yard vacation worth the trip. And the sunshine remained, unlike yesterday. That day I left home, so sure of the sunshine as I ran out to run errands that I neglected to check the weather. A mile away from home, however, the clouds abruptly darkened at the north. Within fifteen minutes, you’d never believe the sun existed as hard as the rain fell.

But today, there was beauty to behold and sunshine to set it off. But after awhile, I adjourned inside to watch Fantasia 2000, which featured Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. If you have a spare 12.15 minutes, enjoy this performance by the YouTube Orchestra. (Who knew YouTube had an orchestra?) It’s beautiful. (You can watch the Fantasia segment on Vimeo. Just click here or Google Firebird Suite—1919. When you see it, you’ll know why this piece of music seemed appropriate after my tour of the flowers.)

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From the Firebird Suite segment of Fantasia 2000

And speaking of beauty, I have three books to give away by three wonderful authors. You remember them:

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If you’re thoroughly confused about what I just mentioned, click on these interview posts:
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/check-this-out-surviving-santiago/
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/04/check-this-out-julia-child-an-extraordinary-life-in-words-and-pictures/
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/check-this-out-skyscraping/

Huge thanks to the authors for donating signed books and other swag! After consulting the random number generator, I have three winners. The winner of Surviving Santiago is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!!!

The winner of Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marilyn Warner!!!

The winner of Skyscraping is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

One of the authors I’m featuring: Lyn Miller-Lachmann!!! (Yes, authors who comment are eligible for the drawing too.)

Winners, congratulations. Signed copies will be coming your way! Please comment below to confirm, then please email me. Thanks for commenting!

Iris

I’m ready for my closeup.

Author photos courtesy of authors. Book covers from the authors and Goodreads. Flowers, tree, and chair photos by L. Marie. Puppy eyes photo from jinglegraphicdesign.blogspot.com. Fantasia 2000 image from pinterest.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.

IMG_5427Display at Mt. Airy

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.

Check This Out—Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Today on the blog is the très fabuleuse Erin Hagar, yet another friend from VCFA. She’s here to talk about her middle grade biography, Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures (art by Joanna Gorham), which was published in May by Duopress.

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I’ll be giving away a copy of this book. But let me talk to Erin first. I hope you’ll join in the conversation later on.

El Space: Erin, it’s great to have you on the blog.
Erin: I am so excited to be on El Space! Thank you for having me!

El Space: How did you come to write a biography of Julia Child?
Erin: Your readers are probably familiar with Brian Selznick’s amazing The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007). The publisher of Duopress had the great idea to adapt this visual format—with large chunks of the story told visually—to a biography. It’s an amazing concept, and I was so glad he approached me to work with him on it. We brainstormed possible subjects, and I suggested Gordon Ramsay because my family loves Master Chef, Jr. After discussing it a bit, we thought, “Why not the television cook who started it all?” Voilà—Julia it was!

Julia-Child

El Space: What is it about Julia’s life that so many people find fascinating? I can’t help thinking of Julie & Julia (2009).
Erin: Isn’t that a great movie? I watched it only after I’d done a lot of research on Julia, because I didn’t want to confuse facts about her life with details from the movie, in case they’d been changed as screenwriters understandably do. But you know what? The parts with Meryl Streep were incredibly accurate! To answer your question, gosh, there’s so much that’s fascinating. I think it comes down to her personality. She just radiated energy and enthusiasm and this remarkable down-to-earth spirit, with a little sauciness thrown in. Pardon the pun.

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El Space: Ha! Love the pun!
Erin: On top of that, the details of her life are remarkable—her service during WWII, and how hard she worked to find something she loved to do, how tirelessly she worked for her success, her pioneer show on television. All of it is amazing, really.

El Space: Did you try any of her recipes while you wrote this book? If so, which ones?
Erin: I confess, right here on El Space, that I am not the greatest cook. But my daughter is, and together we made Julia’s Duck L’Orange for Christmas dinner this year. It turned out pretty great! Mostly thanks to my daughter. But I did read a lot of Julia’s recipes, of course, to get a sense of her voice and her attention to detail which is amazing.

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Julia Child’s Canard à l’Orange

El Space: I just read this article about Flynn McGarry, a 15-year-old Michelin-starred chef. How does your book motivate young novice cooks to challenge themselves?
Erin: What a great story! I wouldn’t mind getting on the guest list for one of young Flynn’s amazing supper club events. It’s funny, though, because Flynn’s experience is the polar opposite of Julia’s. Julia didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life until her late thirties. She was just an eater until her time overseas, and while she appreciated good meals later, she was a disaster at making them for a long time. So what I hope kids take away from this book is that—while it’s great to have amazing, talented young people in a field like cooking—you don’t have to be excellent from such a young age to make a name for yourself later on. That’s true in any field. Be a kid! Bumble around! It’s okay!

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El Space: What was your research process for this project? Did it involve a lot of fact checking?
Erin: I’m lucky to have had lots of information to work from. There have been several amazing biographies written about Julia Child, notably Bob Spitz’s Dearie and Noël Riley Fitch’s Appetite for Life, which were huge helps. Julia also wrote her autobiography, My Life in France, with her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. That book, along with a collection of letters Julia wrote to her best friend, gave me lots of “dialogue” for my book, which I hope lightens it up and gives a readers a sense of her voice. In addition, there is an incredible collection of Julia’s papers at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. I spent a good part of a week there researching, which was a lot of fun. I could have spent much more time there, actually.

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El Space: Any advice for a budding writer who wants to tackle a biography?
Erin: Go for it! In many ways, you’re doing the same thing as fiction writing: bringing a person’s story to life, using the best details you can find to show their transformation over time. The difference is, of course, the need for those details to be entirely accurate as well as telling. Knowing what to leave out is as important as what to include. I struggled a lot with that in the early drafts. Thankfully my editor, Robin Pinto, is super smart and always knew what to take out.

El Space: This is usually a tough question for authors to answer, but I need to ask it: Which authors inspire you right where you are in your journey as an author?
Erin: I have a crazy amount of respect for any novelist who finishes a novel. Seriously. But you probably want me to be more specific, don’t you? Okay, I loved Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap for its magical realism, and I love the way Kekla Magoon wove together the many points of view in How It Went Down. Lindsay Eyre just published a chapter book called The Best Friend Battle, and it’s one of the best examples of “kid speak” and “kid think” I’ve ever read.

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El Space: What are you working on?
Erin: I just wrapped up another nonfiction for Duopress—a slightly shorter book about the history of the LEGO brick titled Awesome Minds: The Inventors of Lego. Super fun! It will be out in Spring ’16. I also have a picture book coming out with Charlesbridge in Fall ’16 about the Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I. Think Rosie the Riveter, one generation earlier, on farms. And I’ve got this middle grade novel I’m trying to tame. It’s been a long haul with this story, but I’ll get there. Someday.

Thank you, Erin, for being my guest. You’re awesome!

If you’re looking for Erin, check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Or, visit the Facebook page for Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures.

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be giving away a copy to a commenter. Winner to be announced on June 10. When you comment, please share a dish you like to make or eat. I’ll start by saying I make a mean coq au vin. Yes, I do!

Book covers from Goodreads. Movie poster from madeinkitchen.tv. Kid chef from multiplemayhemmamma.com. Julia Child photo from indianapublicmedia.org. Julia Child’s Canard à l’Orange photo from foodista.com.

Check This Out: Surviving Santiago

Please join me in welcoming back to the blog my good friend and classmate at VCFA, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. It’s my pleasure to help her celebrate today’s launch of her young adult historical fiction book, Surviving Santiago, published by Running Press Kids/Perseus Books. (Click on the publisher to read a synopsis of this book.)

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Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency. Her publicist just happens to be another classmate of ours: Val Howlett.

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El Space: Happy Launch Day, Lyn! When you wrote Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009), did you envision a sequel to follow? Why or why not?
Lyn: I didn’t expect to write a companion or sequel. Technically, this is a companion rather than a sequel because it has a different protagonist, one who was a major secondary character in the previous book. When I started Gringolandia as a contemporary novel back in 1987, I saw it as a stand-alone. Then, when it lost a contract with a major publisher and I couldn’t find another editor to take it on, I didn’t think I’d get one book out of all my work, much less two.

Over the next fifteen years, I’d occasionally return to the shelved manuscript, rewriting it from different characters’ perspectives because I loved the story and characters so much and couldn’t bear to let them go forever. However, Tina was never one of the characters I chose. For serious Gringolandia fans who want to know, the characters tapped to tell parts of the story over the years were Daniel, Courtney, Papá, Mamá, and one of the solidarity committee members from Chile, Patricio Wheelock.

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In Gringolandia, Tina appears as more of a victim of her family’s turmoil, struggling with her own problems. Had I written her story, it would have become the focus. I think that’s one of the reasons my late editor at Curbstone Press, Sandy Taylor, suggested I write an entirely different novel from Tina’s point of view. He wanted to know what happened to her. Over the years, Gringolandia readers asked the same thing, and that’s why I wrote the initial draft of Surviving Santiago and kept working on it even after my editor had passed and my publisher had gone out of business.

El Space: Please walk us through the development of your character, Tina Aguilar. What traits, if any, do you share?
Lyn: Unlike her older brother, Tina never knew what it was like to live in Chile under democracy. She was born in June 1973, at a tumultuous time three months before the military coup. There were strikes, food shortages, and continuous demonstrations on both sides that sometimes led to violent confrontations. After the coup, her father, like many other supporters of the previous government, was detained for a few months—she was an infant then—and after that he went from being a sports journalist to a taxi driver who practiced his real profession underground. So insecurity and fear were in the air even though she remembers her childhood before her father’s lengthy imprisonment as an idyllic time. Along with losing her father, though, she lost her home, her country, and her language, and when she saw her father for the few months after his release, it was yet one more traumatic experience.

Playa Viña del Mar, Playas de Chile

Like me, Tina has a lot of difficulty adjusting to change. Her problems, though, are due more to trauma and growing up with a lot of stress and insecurity that I didn’t experience in my own childhood—though being on the autism spectrum and not knowing why one is different and/or struggles with social relationships creates stress of its own.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Lyn: The hardest part was getting inside the head of Frankie, Tina’s Chilean boyfriend. While he’s not the protagonist, he has needs and desires, and his relationship with Tina changes him as well as her. I needed to know him well to make him a convincing character, but while I knew a lot of immigrants to the United States from Chile, I didn’t know any teenagers personally who’d never left the country and thus spent their entire lives under dictatorship.

El Space: What excites you about historical fiction and this time period in particular?
Lyn: I like the world-building aspects, using my research and writing skills to recreate a different time and place. In terms of world building, historical fiction is a lot like speculative fiction because you’re taking the reader somewhere else and hopefully making it worth the trip. Historical fiction also allows readers to see history from the eyes of ordinary people who generally don’t make it into textbooks, except, perhaps as statistics.

I grew up with the us-versus-them mentality of the Cold War, and learning that the United States installed and maintained regimes as oppressive as those of the Soviet Bloc was eye-opening and disturbing. And while a growing number of authors are writing books about the Cold War era in the United States—Deborah Wiles and her award-winning linked titles Countdown and Revolution come to mind—and some have written about the Castro regime in Cuba and life behind the Iron Curtain, very few books have addressed the experiences of people living under repressive anti-Communist regimes.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will glean from this story?
Lyn: Violence flourishes when we cease to see our neighbor as a human being just like ourselves because of politics, religion, race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation/gender identity. And sometimes we get so wrapped up in our us-versus-them patterns of thinking that it takes an outsider—someone like Tina—to point out the truth. Most teenagers feel like outsiders, but they also have fresh perspectives that deserve consideration. I hope Surviving Santiago inspires teenagers to speak out when they see hatred and injustice directed against anyone.

El Space: Which authors inspired you on the journey to making this book happen?
Lyn: I’m a fan of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, and a central element of his novel Distant Star (New Directions, 2005) appears in Surviving Santiago. I also want to let people know about two outstanding works for middle grade readers that depict violence by the U.S.-supported military government in Guatemala during the Cold War—Marge Pellegrino’s Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Skila Brown’s Caminar (Candlewick, 2014).

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El Space: How would you encourage an author to write historical fiction and make it relevant for a teen audience?
Lyn: Like the popular genre of speculative fiction, historical fiction sets the reader in a different world and addresses big themes. Too often, though, readers have been turned off because the author’s extensive research shows through. For my own writing, I read a lot of dystopian fiction and try to capture that vibe in Surviving Santiago, which is set in a very real dystopia. We history buffs enjoy sifting through minutiae, but more than a little to provide the atmosphere and world building bogs the story down and contributes to the reputation of historical fiction as boring and too much like school. Surviving Santiago is above all an innocent romance that turns very dangerous very quickly because Tina is unaware of the depth of hatred in the society. It’s a story that could happen anywhere—past, present, or future—and I tried to put in enough detail to make it tangible and interesting without slowing down the action.

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Surviving Santiago can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Surviving Santiago. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Happy Launch Day also to another classmate of mine, Cordelia Jensen, whose novel in verse, Skyscraping, debuts today. She’ll be here June 8 to talk about her book! Stay tuned!

Book covers from Goodreads. Book birthday sign from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Map from platoslatinos.net.