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: Paper Hearts

Hello! With me on the blog today is the awesome Meg Wiviott, a friend from VCFA here to talk about her young adult historical verse novel, Paper Hearts, which debuts today! Woot!

MegBarn1

book birthday

Meg is represented by Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman. Paper Hearts was published by Simon & Schuster. Here is the synopsis.

Paper Hearts

Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.

An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.

Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.

Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.

This novel is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst. Their heart is one of the few objects created in Auschwitz, and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Now, let’s talk with Meg!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Meg: (1) I was born in New York City. (2) I love cats. (3) When not writing or reading I spend my time knitting, weaving, or doing needlepoint. (4) I would like to be able to teleport, because I hate flying.

El Space: I’d love to teleport as well. Please tell us how you came to turn the true story of Fania and Zlatka into the novel Paper Hearts.
Meg: I first heard about the heart when I read online about a documentary, The Heart of Auschwitz (Ad Hoc Films 2010), in which the filmmakers try to find the women who signed it. I then visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where the heart is on permanent display, and met with one of the filmmakers. Then I knew this story needed to be told.

50c792757e29f 00LM1005089_1

I first wrote it as a non-fiction middle grade, but knew the story needed to be for older readers. I shoved the story in a drawer for a year and worked on other projects, but continued to keep the story in the back of my mind. When I returned to it, I decided to tell it in verse, which gave me the emotional distance I needed as a writer—Auschwitz is a horrid place to go to every day. I resisted turning it into fiction, but had to in order to make it a complete and full story. So, while everything that happens in the book did not necessarily happen to the girls, all of it still happened. All of it is real.

El Space: How much research did you do?
Meg: Tons! The heart—pun intended—of the story came from Fania and Zlatka’s Shoah Testimonies. I also relied on the film. To learn about the world in which the story took place, I read extensively about Auschwitz in general and the industries who contracted with the Third Reich to use the prisoners as slave laborers. I then began to narrow my interests to survivor stories from Auschwitz, the orchestra, the Sonderkommando, and the Union Kommando. There is an extensive bibliography in the book, but I don’t think even that lists all the books I read.

El Space: You’ve written a picture book, Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, which also has a tie to the Holocaust. What do you hope children, and now teens who read the story of Fania and Zlatka, will take away from your stories about this important, but devastating historical event?
Meg: Benno and the Night of Broken Glass tells the story of Kristallnacht, which marks the beginning of the Holocaust, through the eyes of a cat.

7792370

My goal as a writer is to tell a story as historically accurate as possible. But I want to be as gentle as I am honest. I can only hope that a reader will take something from the story so that someday, when she encounters injustice/discrimination/hatred, she will stand up and say, “This is not right.”

El Space: How did you make the choice to write for children and young adults?
Meg: I’ve always written. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to write for children and young adults, it just seems to be what comes out of me. Someone wiser and pithier than I said that we write at the age of our inner selves. Obviously, my inner self is not an adult.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding historical fiction authors?
Meg: Be honest to the history and to your characters. Do not impose your twenty-first century ideas on someone who lived in a different time and place.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Meg: Any well written book is inspiring. When I was a kid, my favorite books were Where the Red Ferns Grow [Wilson Rawls] and My Side of the Mountain [Jean Craighead George].

416679780440412670_custom-3504029ede43ad3c1e2c455e9c60d062bd7d1a0c-s6-c30

The books I’ve read recently that particularly inspire me are coincidentally all written by VCFA grads: Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, Heather Demetrios’s I’ll Meet You There, Catherine Linka’s A Girl Called Fearless, and Dana Walrath’s Like Water on Stone. These books are all beautifully written and tell important stories—the kind of stories I wanted to read as a child, the kind of stories I aspire to write now.

Audacity-cover-206x30018404156

214690689780385743976

El Space: What are you working on next?
Meg: My current WIP is another YA historical novel set in 1944 in Los Alamos, tentatively titled Hiking with Oppenheimer.

Thanks, Meg, for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about Meg, check out her website and Facebook.

You can find Paper Hearts at
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Paper Hearts. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. When you comment, you might share something a friend did to cheer you up. Winner to be announced on September 8.

Author photo and Paper Hearts cover courtesy of Meg Wiviott. Other book covers from Goodreads and npr.org. The heart from telefilm.ca and mhmc.ca.

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.

9780803739260_NearlyGone_JKT.indd  CordeliaJensenAuthorPhoto

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.

IMG_20150606_190322 IMG_20150606_192048

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.

12985       12938

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.

mira

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.

IMG_5407

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.

004 IMG_5429

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.

evolution-of-new-york-city-skyline-1990s

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.

coe_booth_-_author_photo

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.

32240

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.

IMG_5432

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.

IMG_5408

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.

20342676  3412

16735 18765

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.

016
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.