Mad, Sad, or Glad?

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the types of stories to which she gravitated. Bittersweet was the answer. She loves stories with a rich vein of sadness but also a redemptive conclusion.

Though I mostly gravitate to stories with a happy ending, I also love a narrative where the ending is bittersweet. Stories where you can see the cost paid to ensure that others have a happy ending. You see this quality in many heroic tales where the hero or a companion of the hero loses a battle in order to ultimately win the war. Think of Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King. Or, sometimes, a hero falls due to temptation, but willingly pays the ultimate price in order to redeem himself/herself. Think of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. (If you have no idea what I mean, there’s always Google.)

 

One of my sisters-in-law loves books with happy endings. “I read to escape,” she said, which makes sense with her being a marriage and family therapist.

Other people I know love books with provocative topics that make people mad or horrified—stories of weird serial killers, people will strange habits that get them killed, or stories of injustice.

When I was a teen, I glommed onto books about serial killers or weird loners. I had a lot of angst as a teen. But now that I’m older and there’s this thing called the internet where stories of weird loners are a dime a dozen, the books I read have a lot more hope and light.

What kinds of books do you find yourself reading a lot? While you think of that, I will move on to the winner of a preorder of the upcoming novel in verse, Moonwalking by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott. And Sharon, you are that winner.

 

Thank you to all who commented.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other photos by L. Marie.

How Much Time?

time%20clock

Hi! It’s L. Marie. It’s been a minute since I last posted. Sorry about that. I drew a blank every time I thought about what to post (summer? Independence? COVID?) so I didn’t. 😑 But here I am finally. It’s about time, you’re probably thinking. And to that I say you’re absolutely right about the subject of this post.

The catalyst for it was a YouTube video I watched on a videogame, Link’s Awakening. The YouTuber proclaimed that it took 11 hours to finish the game. For him, that seemed to be an incredibly long amount of time. The median amount of time for the game, which I’ve played, is 14 hours. Click here for more details.

Link

That got me to wondering about time and how relative it is. With that in mind, consider your answers to the following questions below. My answers are in bold.

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent . . .

  • Playing a videogame? 1000+ (Animal Crossing)

Animal Crossing

  • Writing a short story? Two weeks for a 1200-word story. I spent a week writing and rewriting a five-hundred-word chapter and five days writing and rewriting a three-hundred-word story.
  • Writing a novel? Three years from draft to revision
  • Binge watching a TV show (not counting special events like the Olympics) or miniseries? Six hours for the TV show. A friend and I binge-watched episodes of the first season of Heroes back in 2007. We spent ten hours watching the miniseries, The 10th Kingdom years before that. It debuted back in 2000.

Tenth Kingdom

Novel adaptation of the series

  • Knitting a sweater or some other craft work? A week.
  • Other?

I see you staring at the thousand plus hours I listed for the videogame. For some, a videogame might seem like a waste of time. I won’t debate that here. But I’ll just add that the game was played over the course of 15 months. And that amount of time is not unusual considering the pandemic. Click here for an article that discusses the matter.

Years ago, I read a blog post by a writer who wrote a novel in nine days, revised it over a couple of weeks, and sold it to a publisher less than a month later. Granted, she had already published a fantasy trilogy. But I recall balking at what seemed (to me at least) an incredibly short amount of time. Some of that balking—really, sour grapes—stemmed from the three years I’d spent on a novel only to net zero sales.

Time is relative.

Sometimes I’ve felt shame over the amount of time I spent doing something. Ever feel that? Like for instance, the fact that it took four hours for me to defeat the first dungeon in Link’s Awakening, when others, like the YouTuber I mentioned earlier beat it in 55 minutes. I know that’s innocuous. But I’ve also experienced shame after hearing about how quickly some authors gained an agent (one now famous author I read about gained one a month after querying), knowing I spent years querying to no result.

Is there anyone among us who has cornered the market on time—who knows exactly how long anything should take? Oh, I know there are jobs where time limits are premeasured. I once had a proofreading job where one of my five supervisors told me that certain assignments took a certain amount of time and I had better adhere to that time frame. But what I’m getting at here is that it is so easy to criticize someone for not “measuring up” to a specific amount of time.

I can’t help thinking of my undergrad years and how some students were shamed for taking longer than four years to finish college. A guy who worked on the food line at my dorm had been there four years when I arrived and was still there when I graduated four years later. Now, I think the average amount of time to finish college in the U.S. is five to six years. Go here for an article on that.

Do you ever share an opinion with others on how long something should take? What do you do when someone shares an opinion with you?

Clock image found somewhere online. I used it before in a post back in 2013, but got tired of scrolling through the photo library to find it. Other photos by L. Marie.

Of Bunnies and Birds and Apples and Poetry

Ever since I learned to crochet, I’ve always loved discovering and trying new crochet patterns. I’ve made sweaters, afghans, and numerous amigurumi patterns including these:

Exp Crochet1

Traveling Tu bunny pattern by Doris Yu

Apple and bird patterns by The Wandering Deer

Exp Crochet2

I had the same love of experimentation back when I first put pen to paper. Case in point: Back in first grade I wrote my first song with a friend.

We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Jennifer
Jennifer
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Because she’s soooo bad.
Yeah!

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jenn-Jennifer

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer!

We actually sang this to Jennifer. Yes, I was a brat, I am ashamed to say. Needless to say, this song did not make the Billboard list.

Anyway, besides song writing, over the years I dabbled in other poetic forms (haiku, iambic pentameter even!), and also wrote stage plays and screenplays, short stories, devotionals, graphic novels, novels, newspaper and magazine articles, and product ads. Now, when I say “wrote” the above, I made several failed attempts at some of them. But I at least wanted to try my hand at every form of writing I could, because experimenting was fun. And I netted some sales as a result

So why is it that nowadays, I have steered less toward experimenting and more toward the tried-and-true forms of writing I have done over and over again? I don’t actually expect you to answer that question by the way. I know the answer: fear of rejection. You would think after receiving literally hundreds of them I wouldn’t fear rejection so much. But I realize now how much having a fear-of-rejection mindset has hampered me.

I love how Jill Weatherholt, who is the winner of When in Vanuatu by the way (click here for the interview with the awesome author, Nicki Chen), kept trying to get a story published by Woman’s World. She didn’t let “no” stop her. She kept writing and submitting stories because she loved to do so.

90216397F079 9781647420345_fc-2

I want to return to my writing experiments. I’m in the middle of a novel that needs more of my past pioneering spirit.

What about you? Do you like to experiment?

Author photo and cover courtesy of Nicki Chen. Author photo by LifeTouch. Other photos by L. Marie.

Learning to Fall/Fail

I don’t usually post on Saturdays, but I promised I would post this week. So here we go. . . .

I learned to ride a bike when I was eight. I wasn’t one of those kids who had a bike with training wheels. My first bike was sky blue and had a banana seat and a white basket. Kinda like this one. (This is not my bike, however.)

b70d29fbe4484707d0e01a72e3d5fc48

My dad held on to the back of it and coached me to balance and pedal. Ha. Easier said than done. Those of you who learned to ride via this method will know that I immediately crashed into something, especially when I realized that my father no longer held on to the seat nor was he providing the balance my brain told me I lacked. Oh yes. I became well acquainted with trees, the grass, the concrete sidewalk—you name it. I fell countless times before something clicked and I was able to ride without fear.

Learning to use a pair of inline skates was a lot easier. For one thing, I took a class from a traveling group of people who taught in a parking lot. The best thing I learned during that class was how to fall. Knowing that falling was part of the process made learning easier. I still fell many, many times. Yet the attitude of my teachers toward falling was the thing that kept me going. They were so cheerful and matter-of-fact about it. “Keep your knees bent,” they said. This advice made falling easier.

Inline Skate

It’s interesting that in our society, we see the success stories. The stories of failure are usually less intentional and more along the lines of, “So and so was caught doing something wrong and here is that story.” We’re taught that failure is something you shove at the back of your closet and shut the door to prevent anyone who comes to your home from seeing it.

That’s why I love stories of authors who talk about the many rejections they have had, and how those rejections were part of the process that took them from point A to point B. They knew how to fall and get back up again.

I also appreciate advice I was given from advisors: to experiment and freewrite. This was their way of teaching me how to fall gracefully. Because once I realized what didn’t work, I could try again until I found what did.

Mary Winn Heider can certainly relate to try, try again. Click here to read the interview with her concerning her latest MG novel, The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. The winner of that wonderful novel is Laura Bruno Lilly. Laura, please comment below to confirm.

Losers1Jacket Pic MWH

Bike photo from somewhere online. Skate photo by L. Marie.

  

This Is Winter

 

Don’t let the sunshine fool you. I took these photos while standing outside in -7 degrees Fahrenheit/-21 Celsius air (-25F/-31C wind chill at the time). Lest you wonder why, I was on my way to start my car. When your car is old and you’re parked outside in weather like this, you need to start it every day, even if you don’t go anywhere.

The car gave me attitude, acting like it didn’t want to start (I have a sudden flashback to my teenage years and how I was in the morning), but I was determined that it would start.

The next day, the temperature was a balmy 14 degrees to allow for more snow. Wheeeee!

On the day that I’m writing this, earlier I crunched outside (snow crunches, in case you are wondering about my verb choice) to start the car and to brush the powdery snow off so that I could head to the store, since we’re expecting—you’ll never guess what—more snow.

At the time (6:48 a.m.) the temperature was one above zero. A thirty-two-degree day seems almost tropical. I can’t remember the last time we had one. Maybe the week before last? Three weeks ago?

It’s amazing what you get used to. I’m now used to the rhythm of going outside, armed with my tools, just to be able to move my car.

My best friends now.

  

The shovel is the MVP. Not shown is the windshield screen a pastor gave me out of pity.

I can’t help thinking of the line spoken by Richard in Richard III, Act I, Scene I—the first line in the play in fact:

Now is the winter of our discontent.

But you have to read the next line to get more context:

Made glorious summer by this sun of York

Okay, maybe that line doesn’t provide a ton of context. It is interesting how Richard is being sarcastic here as he contemplates his misery during a supposedly happy time, thanks to his brother becoming King Edward IV. This is not a post on Richard III, so I won’t go into the why of this, though you could check out David Morrissey performing the soliloquy from which the above line derives. (If for some reason the video below disappears, click here to view it.)

But the contrast of happy days (summer) to dark days of war epitomized by winter was too apt for me to ignore. And yet . . .

I have to let the temptation of yearning for summer, or even spring, pass. It’s so easy for me to long for what’s to come (warmer temperatures), instead of living in the now (the freezer).

After all, freshly fallen snow enabled me to spot these:

Coyote tracks from a couple weeks back; the pack has taken shelter somewhere else lately.

I’ve also gotten to know several neighbors simply because we were all out shoveling snow around our cars.

This is winter. This is now. And yes, that wreath hangs on my door.

When the snow photo above was taken, the temperature had climbed to 16 degrees Fahrenheit /-8 Celsius. Good job, Winter! I knew you had it in you.

Photos by L. Marie

Guest Post: Seasons of Story

Today, I welcome to the blog a good friend who has been here a number of times—the great Lyn Miller-Lachmann. You have the floor now, Lyn!

Spring is my favorite season. I appreciate the buds and blossoms, the longer days, the fresh smell of grass after a rain shower. Yet I don’t feel the urgency to get outside with each warm day, the way I do in the fall. I know there will be many more warm, sunny days. I can afford to waste a few of them.

Writing fiction, though, I have to break the habit of wasting days. I don’t mean procrastinating in my daily word count. As a fan of spring and its endless possibilities, I tend to let my characters dilly-dally, smelling the roses, spending an afternoon on a winery tour in southern Moravia while the bad guys hunt them down.

A tight timeline is a writer’s friend. While many successful novels take place over the course of a calendar year, or in books for kids and teens, a school year (or four), tension rises when events occur within a short period of time. In some cases, there’s a ticking clock—something bad that will happen within a week if the protagonist doesn’t stop it. Long timelines tend to defuse tension, though they’re better suited to quieter novels that prioritize the emotional growth of the protagonist over a triumph over an evil adversary. As any critic of insta-love will tell you, genuine relationships and emotional transformation need time to develop.

I’ve found that my most successful novels take place over the course of one season. Of the middle grade and YA manuscripts I’ve completed—three published, two unpublished, and two due to be published in 2022—two take place in spring, two in fall, one in the northern hemisphere summer but the southern hemisphere winter, one in a six-month period between February and August cutting across three seasons, and one over the course of an entire year. The weakest manuscript, now shelved, takes place over the entire year, and much of it feels like vignettes rather than a story that builds tension to a climax. The other unpublished story awaiting revisions is a YA historical romance that takes place over a few weeks, and I’m coming to realize that I need a longer timeframe for the romance, one that balances the ups and downs of their relationship while taking into account the outside threats that the new couple faces. I will need the entire season, not just a month within it.

Given that I tend to keep the timeframe within a single season, how do I choose the season for each story? In general, I let the school calendar define my window, as school is such an important part of life for children and teenagers. My forthcoming middle grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’m writing with Zetta Elliott [below], takes place in fall because it’s the start of the school year and my protagonist, JJ, is a newcomer to his neighborhood and school. Faced with the foreclosure of their home on Long Island and JJ’s inability to secure a scholarship at his Catholic school due to poor grades and behavioral issues, his parents move to his grandmother’s basement apartment in Brooklyn just before the school year starts. The novel explores JJ’s adjustment to attending a public school for the first time, one in which there are few white kids like him.

In contrast, my 2015 YA historical novel, Surviving Santiago, is a summer vacation story. While her newly remarried mother goes on honeymoon, Tina journeys to visit her father in Santiago, Chile, where it’s the middle of winter—though a much milder winter than it would be in her Wisconsin home. In Chile she counts down the days until she returns to her friends and her daily routines. Her father’s home is a disorienting and dangerous place on the cusp of transition from dictatorship to democracy, a time of settling scores with people who upheld a violent regime and people like her father who helped bring it down. The countdown in this “upside-down” situation means returning to safety, at least until Tina meets a mysterious boy her ago with so much in common, and then she doesn’t want to leave at all. In Surviving Santiago, the season of the year works on multiple levels, including as a metaphor for the situation in which Tina finds herself.

Other factors can determine a choice of seasons. What sports are in season at the time? That had a lot to do with my choice for Rogue, set in a northeastern US spring with opportunities for mountain biking through muddy trails and swollen creeks. With historical fiction, reality often determines when the story begins. The inciting incident for my forthcoming YA novel, Torch, involves a teenage political activist motivated by actual events that occurred one and two months earlier, in January and February of that year; in March, he would be the third to carry out the same act.

Choosing the season for your setting, and using it as a ticking clock or metaphor can help you structure your story. Your details specific to that season root your story in a time and place and help your setting become a character in itself. If you don’t like that season (and I’m not a fan of either summer or winter), you can give your book a dystopian feel, as I did with Surviving Santiago. Or you can imbue it with the kind of possibility that you feel when the calendar, and the weather, turns to your favorite time of the year.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann writes fiction and nonfiction for teens and translates children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English. She debuted with the award-winning historical novel, Gringolandia, followed by its companion Surviving Santiago, and  has two more historical novels forthcoming in 2022: Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliott) and Torch. She also wrote the pioneering #ownvoices middle grade novel, Rogue, based on her experience of growing up autistic but not yet diagnosed.

L. Marie here. I just learned of another book project that Lyn is working on—a nonfiction book. Check it out here: https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/i-get-to-write-another-book/

Author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Photo of Lyn by Joan Heffler. Daffodil photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: A Home for Her Daughter

I’m so pleased to welcome to the blog today the fabulous Jill Weatherholt. Many of you know her and love her. She’s here to talk about her latest Love Inspired novel, A Home for Her Daughter, which was published on August 25.

 

      Here’s the synopsis:

One little girl could change her mom’s mind about love…To give her daughter a brighter future…she must leave the past behind. Inheriting a house, money and a camp is the fresh start Janie Edmiston has been praying for. But the will stipulates Janie must work with her childhood friend—and crush—Drew Brenner, to get the camp running…or lose it all. The newly divorced mother and the widower aren’t looking for love, but sometimes it takes a child to show two broken hearts the way forward…together.

Since Jill is known for her Would you rather . . .? interviews, I decided to use the same format with her.

El Space: Would you rather research and write your next book in Paris or Hawaii?
Jill: Definitely Hawaii. I’m not a city person at all. The ocean is my happy place. The sound of the waves, the smell of the salty air, the gentle breeze, the feel of the sand on my bare feet. I’m ready to go now! I could walk for miles and miles. For me, it’s the perfect place to be still.

El Space: Would you rather have to write a novel next to a room in which a baboon will screech for three minutes every hour for nine hours or write with the knowledge that at some point in the day, an unknown animal will suddenly appear (no advance warning) and brush you with its tail feathers for fifteen minutes?
Jill: I’ll take the baboon. I’m not a fan of surprises, so the idea of something suddenly appearing without notice, would scare me to death. Plus, I’m very ticklish. I could prepare for the baboon’s visits. I like to be prepared.

El Space: Would you rather have coffee or tea for deadline days?
Jill: Coffee for sure! I do enjoy tea, and I drink a lot of it in the winter months to stay warm, but I’ve yet to find one strong enough. I need that jolt. I drink my coffee black and extra strong. Derek has often referred to my cup of joe as “motor oil.”

El Space: You’re celebrating the release of your novel. Would you rather have a slice of cake, a cupcake, or the world’s finest granola bar?
Jill: Granola bar? Seriously? No way! I’m celebrating. Give me the slice of cake and cupcake, but only if it’s chocolate. Anything else is wasted calories.

Thanks, Jill, for putting up with my strange questions!
Looking for Jill? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Looking for A Home for Her Daughter? (I couldn’t help chuckling at how that question sounded if taken out of context.) Head to Jill’s website for places to purchase. But one of you will find this lovely book in your very own mailbox. Winner to be announced on October 15.

Author photo courtesy of the author. Baboon image from blogspot.com. Hawaii image from Wallpaper Cave. Coffee image from Cup of coffee from clker.com. Granola bar image from the Food Network.

The Care and Feeding of a Freelancer

I have been a freelance writer/book editor/developmental editor/manuscript reviewer/indexer/copy editor/proofreader/several other hats for many years. I won’t say how many. Suffice it to say that when I started, cuneiform was the hot new mode of communication.

Being the kind and considerate person that you are, you probably have questions about freelancers. Perhaps a stray freelancer followed you home and you’re wondering how to take care of him or her. So glad you asked me to provide tips.

Handy Tips
• Always brush with the fur and not against.

• Be quick to offer chocolate, doughnuts, cake, cookies, other kinds of candy, and salted snacks of all varieties. The freelancer undoubtedly is house trained and won’t make a mess.

 

• Keep your freelancer hydrated with coffee, tea, and especially water during work hours.

 

• Homecooked meals are appreciated, especially during weeks when deadlines keep your freelancer chained to a computer. But don’t be surprised if your freelancer tells you, “I only have eight minutes to eat, so I’ll have to eat and run.”

• Encouragement/affirmations of any kind are welcome. Here are a few if you can’t think of any right off the bat: “You are the most interesting person on Planet Earth.” “Pajamas are a good look for you.” “That book should win a Pulitzer simply because you edited it.” “Don’t worry. I’m sure your client didn’t notice your bedhead in the last Zoom meeting.”

Things to Avoid
• Calling in the middle of the day to ask, “What are you doing?” with the assumption that “Nothing, because I’ve been waiting for your phone call” is the answer. The middle of the day (and sometimes the middle of the night) is prime working time. If your freelancer is anything like me, he or she probably works around the clock and doesn’t get weekends or paid holidays off. (If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.) Also, freelancers often are hired to take on fast-track jobs that regular staff members don’t have time for, hence the tight deadlines necessitating long work hours.)

• Saying things like, “You must get paid a fortune since you are freelance.” Freelancers have things like self-employment tax, equipment replacement, and other worries. Though many freelancers may have a number of projects to work on, the income is not often steady. I waited three months one time to get paid.

• Telling a freelancer, “Get a job with a steady income.” You might think that sounds logical. But have you checked the unemployment statistics lately? Need I say more? This piece of advice is about as welcome as “Snap out of it” is to someone depressed.

And there you have it! Just keep chucking chocolate and affirmations at your freelancer and before long, his or her coat will be glossy, and he or she will continue to thrive.

Now onto the winner of War of Nytefall: Ravenous by Charles Yallowitz. (See this post for more information.) That winner is Jill Weatherholt!

  

Jill, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

P.S. Thoughts and prayers are with the people on the West Coast in the wake of the terrible fires.

Freelancer image from PHXNews.com. Peace dove from clipart-library.com. No cell phone from firstoaktm.wordpress.com. No money sign from crazzzytravel.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Taking Root

So, a dear friend sent me this housewarming gift:

Because that is what kind, wonderful people do. (And for anyone reading this, that was not a hint for you to send a gift. You’re kind and wonderful without that.)

Though I was really pleased and thankful, I also had this reaction:

Because as far as plants are concerned, I have been this:

I texted a Plant Whisperer friend who knows what to do, since I really want these plants (the basket has multiple plants) to survive. She texted me a gif like the following for the plants.

Sigh.

Seriously, being the great friend that she is, she told me what to do for them. Eventually, they will need to be divided into separate pots. But for now, they seem content to be together.

After examining the basket of plants, another awesome friend (I am rich in friends) told me, “These plants are hard to kill.” Guess they’re like terminators in a way, only they aren’t out to kill Sarah Connor or her son John. (If you’re scratching your head, Google the Terminator movies.)

Plants represent for me the need to be planted where I am. Possessing even one has always meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” So, this plant grouping reminds me to put down roots. (Fun fact: some of the tenants of my apartment complex have lived here over forty years! Talk about roots!)

Plants also remind me to be responsible. I can’t just leave for weeks on end without a game plan for their care. Not if I want them to live.

Do you have houseplants? Enjoy caring for them? Or are you indifferent to them? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by another dear friend, Sandra Nickel. See interview here.

   

The winner is Nicki!

Nicki, please comment below to confirm. As usual, I’m grateful to all who commented.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of the author. Rabbits and Grim Reaper gifs from tenor.com. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the terminator gif from somewhere online. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack

I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.

   

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sandra:
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!

About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.


Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio

El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.

An original nacho in Piedras Negras

What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!

My nachos

El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.

About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.

El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!

El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.

As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!

Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!

Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!

Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:

★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST

“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Nacho’s Nachos? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, or your favorite local bookstore.

Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.

Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.

Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.