Creating Conflict

I recently broke one of my rules by deliberately reading a spoiler-filled book. Though I have not yet seen the animated movie WolfWalkers (now on Apple TV), I read with delight the pages of The Art of WolfWalkers, a book by Charles Solomon that is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film (click the movie title above to learn more about the movie) has some fantasy elements, but is based on real events in history. Click here to read more about those events.

  

The book was given to me by a friend (thank you, Sharon). I don’t have Apple TV, so there is no telling when I’ll see the film. But I love the work of the studio that produced it (Cartoon Saloon), and the director behind it—Tomm Moore, an Irish filmmaker who has helmed some of the movies that are now among my all-time favorites: Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009). So I’m usually interested in anything that helps me learn about his creative process.

  

An exercise the book mentions intrigued me:

Tomm heard Jim [Capobianco, a story artist whose work Moore admires, who had the idea for the film Ratatouille along with director Brad Bird] say that when he’s trying to come up with ideas, he writes two lists: things he loves and things he hates. Obviously, all good stories have conflict, so he would make the lists to find the conflicts he needed. That’s what Tomm and Ross [Stewart, the co-director of WolfWalkers] did. (New York: Abrams, 2020. 15)

I found that fascinating, because the creation of conflict(s) in a story has always been challenging for me. Yes, I know that conflict is essential to the plot and comes from the way characters relate to each other, based on their characteristics and beliefs. And this is not to say that making these lists is the thing to do for every story. But if you’re stuck, you might give the list making a try. I plan to do so!

If creating conflicts comes easily to you, got any tips you’d like to share? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Rural Voices, an anthology of stories acquired and contributed to by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. For the interview with Nora, click here.

  

The winner of that book is Marie!

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

Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Rural Voices

With me on the blog today is another of my classmates, the awesome Nora Shalaway Carpenter (woot woot). Nora has been here before (click here) and is here today to talk about Rural Voices, a young adult fiction anthology for which she was the acquiring editor and contributor. Rural Voices, published by Candlewick Press, is an NPR Best Book of 2020 and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Please join me in a conversation with Nora.

El Space: Thank you for being here, Nora.
Nora: Thanks so much for having me, Linda!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1) My favorite candy is Dark Chocolate Craisins. 2) My current fave song is Can You Feel the Sun by Missio. 3) I used to like dogs more than cats, but now have a new appreciation for felines thanks to our rescued cat, Pumpkin. 4) I grew up off a dirt road in rural West Virginia. My closest neighbor was a mile away.


I could only find a photo of Milk Chocolate Craisins. They look tasty! 🥰

El Space: Please tell us how Rural Voices came to be. What, if any, goals did you have for getting this project off the ground?
Nora: I’d been secretly thinking about an anthology of rural voices for a while, but the project began after a conversation with my author friends and VCFA classmates Mary Winn Heider and Rachel Hylton. When I lamented that no one had yet compiled a YA collection of rural voices, they encouraged me to do it myself. I sent an email to my agent during that chat and the rest is history!

My biggest initial goal was to show readers that rural America was so much more complex, valuable, and diverse than the tired clichés usually presented in popular media.

El Space: How did you go about acquiring authors for Rural Voices?
Nora: This was a little tricky, because a lot of people don’t flaunt their rural roots because they are sick of being shamed about them. Luckily, I had a nice core group of rural authors that I knew from VCFA. A number of them knew other rural authors to recommend.

El Space: What were some of challenges you faced as you worked on the anthology? How long did the project take to complete?
Nora: Coordinating the submission and revision deadlines of all the contributors was one of the biggest challenges. The timeline was much faster than it might have been—about a year—because Candlewick and I really wanted the book to come out before the 2020 election.

El Space: What is one misconception you hope will be erased as readers dive in to this anthology?
Nora: I hope it challenges a lot more than one, but at minimum, I hope it shows readers that rural people are as vibrant, smart, and worthy of dignity and respect as every other person.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: Ah! I’m so excited about my next project. I wish I could tell you all about it, but it is due to be announced anytime, so please keep a lookout on my social media channels—@noracarpenterwrites on IG and @norawritesbooks on Twitter! After that, I’ve got another contemporary YA in the works, this one set in rural West Virginia.

Thank you, Nora!

Looking for Nora? Check out her website and the social media channels mentioned above.

Looking for Rural Voices? Check out Bookshop, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. And don’t forget Nora’s other books:

The Edge of Anything is a Cybils Awards Finalist, a Kirkus Best Book of 2020, and A Mighty Girl’s Book of the Year.

Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Rural Voices. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Craisins image from Bing. Rural homes image from healthline.

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: The Edge of Anything

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.

  

Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.

 

El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.

Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.

El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?

El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.

El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.

El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!

Looking for Nora? Click below:

            .

Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.

 

In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.

The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Beautiful Fonts

Type fonts have fascinated me ever since I learned to read via the daily newspaper ages ago. (True story.) Seeing words neatly arranged on a page always causes my heart to flutter. This is why I love books. (Well, that’s one reason why I love them.) Beautiful, clean-looking fonts always make me think of words being taken seriously. Font design is truly an art form.

And don’t get me started on cover fonts. I love when a designer uses a font that fits the theme of a book or some other aspect of it.

Out right now (cover by Alison Hunt)

Coming this June (cover designer—Dana Li; illustrator—Agata Wierzbicka)

Coming this October (not sure who the cover designer is, but the illustrator is Alice Brereton)

When I took calligraphy as part of my art studies in high school (yep, totally dates me), I had vague hopes of someday creating a beautiful font. Still waiting on that score. In the meantime, I can appreciate the beautiful fonts created by others. (And yes, I know—beauty is subjective.)

Duckbite Swash by Angie Makes

Alex Brush by TypeSETit

Reis by Marcelo Reis Melo

Girly Alphabet (yes, that is a thing)

 

Henry (um, he’s still working on this one)

 

Random photos that have nothing to do with fonts. Photo top left is a Squeezamal™. Photo top right shows sidewalk art (not drawn by me) outside my door that sort of matches the Squeezamal. Last but not least, a photo of the current occupant of my living room.

What covers or fonts have caught your eye recently? As you consider that, Andy of Thinkulum, come on down. You are the winner of The Contract between heaven and earth by John Howell and Gwen Plano! Comment below to confirm.

 

Duckbite Swash calligraphy font image fround at myfonts.com. Alex Brush found at naldzgraphics.net. Reis free font found at pesede.com. Girly Alphabet Font from designtrends.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals™ are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.