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.

It’s the Journey

The creative efforts of others often inspire me. Besides books, one of the creative outlets I turn to for inspiration is My Froggy Stuff, a crafting channel on YouTube. Even if I don’t make the projects featured in the videos, I’m still energized by the act of creating something with my hands. How about you?

My Froggy Stuff

(Commercial break: Yes, I’ll get to the winner of Charlotte Cuts It Out by K. A. Barson—another inspiring creative effort—in a moment. [Click here for that interview.] And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.)

Case in point, I made the doll sofa in the photo below out of felt and cardboard (with yarn trim) after watching a video on My Froggy Stuff. It’s about three-and-one-half inches wide—perfect for a Lalaloopsy mini doll.

Doll Couch Too

In this photo, you can see all of my hand-stitching mistakes. 🙂 But that’s the beauty of crafting. You don’t have to be perfect. (Yeah, I’ll keep telling myself that.)

Anyway, in the comment section of one of Froggy’s videos, in which she explained how she made doll furniture, one of the commenters asked her why she made anything. The commenter then went on to suggest that Froggy buy everything, rather than make it. Perhaps the commenter really thought she was being helpful. Another commenter, however, promptly suggested that the first commenter shut up. (The joys of the internet.)

Yet the first commenter caused me to think about why I prefer to make things if I can, rather than buy them, even if I have to spend hours and hours doing it and make tons of mistakes in the process. Wanna know what I discovered? Come closer, and I’ll whisper it.

Because it’s fun. And relaxing. But you already knew that, right, as well as this old saying:

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Some journeys are life-shaping—we experience growth in the process. I burned myself several times wielding that hot glue gun as I glued felt to cardboard. I also pricked my finger with the needle while sewing. Okay, maybe both of those don’t sound like much fun. But they’re part of the process—hazards of the job. They also taught me to slow down and focus—also important whenever I’m writing or editing anything.

The joy of working with their hands is why gardeners take to the soil, and put up with pests like weeds, aphids, and other inconveniences. Like deer and rabbits. Last summer, rabbits and deer applauded my brother’s gardening efforts by eating just about everything he planted. Did that sour him on gardening? Nope. The joy in the accomplishment was greater than the annoyance of unwanted garden guests.

The creative journey is empowering! This is why many people spend months or years restoring vintage cars.

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And, as you know, when you continue to make things by hand, you get better at it. The first sofa I made took days to complete. The second (the one above), took maybe two hours. (Well, it was smaller, so that helped.)

Now, as promised, on to the creative efforts of Kelly Barson.

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The winner of Charlotte Cuts It Out, thanks to the Random Number Generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights The Way!

Congratulations, Nancy! Please comment below to confirm.

What was the last thing you made by hand? Why did you make it? How did you feel after you did?

My Froggy Stuff logo from YouTube. Journey sign from Pinterest. Franklin D. Roosevelt quote from BrainyQuote.

How to Really Win the Holidays

I’m very late getting this post  out, having been offline for three days. Obviously, I’ve returned! 🙂 But I said I would announce the winners of the book giveaways today. Better late than never, eh?

If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you’ve probably seen some of Best Buy’s recent “win the holidays” campaign. You can win by purchasing gifts of technology at—where else—Best Buy. The clear winner of course would be Best Buy, who would significantly add to its coffers with your money.

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But I’m sure you know how to really win the holidays. With the angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2; consult A Charlie Brown Christmas, which comes on TV every year), you can extend goodwill toward people. How?

    • Instead of texting, call or visit a friend or family member—especially someone who lives alone or suffered a recent loss. Maybe you don’t know what to say. But your presence is more valuable than words.
    • Buy someone homeless a hot meal. You’ve probably seen this viral photo, which involves a woman doing just that. Think of the impact you can have. A hot meal might seem like a drop in a bucket compared to an ocean of need. But it’s an act of love that will never be forgotten.
    • Make a card or a gift for someone. Remember how excited you were when you were a kid and could hand off the paper chain or wreath you made? Recapture the fun and wonder by making a gift for someone.

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This is a Happy Foot coaster I’m making as a gift (pattern by A.D. Whited of Enchanted Hook).

  • Instead of stressing about where you can find that bobble-head figure from the Star Wars franchise (Toys R Us or Target by the way—you’re welcome), take a hot chocolate break. I know. Easy for me to say. I don’t have an 11-year-old who is dying to get a storm trooper bobble head. But I know some would love to chat about the movies or shows over a nice cup of hot chocolate.
  • Give an animal friend a treat. Even if you lack a pet, you can still give to the animals around you. The orange tabby who lives in the area likes to stop by for tuna. (Though he’s very finicky about brands. He won’t eat the dirt cheap kind.) If you have a garden that rabbits and deer enjoyed over the summer, relax. You’ve already given.

Another way to win is to get free stuff. So let’s get to the book giveaways: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

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and Heading North by Andy Murray.

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The winner of All We Left Behind is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

Check This Out: All We Left Behind

022Welcome back to Snow Country (how appropriate with the WordPress snow). Glad you’re here to join me in welcoming to the blog the fabulous Ingrid Sundberg. Her YA novel, All We Left Behind, debuted on December 1, thanks to the publisher—Simon Pulse.

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Ingrid’s agent is Melissa Sarver White at Folio. For a synopsis of All We Left Behind, click on the publisher above. Now let’s talk to Ingrid!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Ingrid: 1. My natural hair color is light brown.
2. I wore fairy wings at my wedding.
3. I love mint chip ice cream.
4. I grew up in the land of snow and lobsters: Maine.

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El Space: What inspired you to write All We Left Behind? It’s very intense. I can’t help thinking about the quote by Akira Kurosawa on your blog: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” Why is that important to you?
Ingrid: The Akira Kurosawa quote is one of my favorites, because I didn’t “crack the nut” of this book until I was willing to really look at the dark parts of this story. It finally broke open when I was willing to honestly see what Marion and Kurt needed and put my personal discomfort and authorial agenda aside. It’s so easy to pretty things up and not “go there.” But when we avert our eyes, we’re protecting ourselves, rather than looking at the truth.

All We Left Behind is the result of an abandoned screenplay, and an abandoned novel. I lifted the characters from those previous projects and started over. The common link that inspired all of them is Marion’s attempt to navigate her sexual awakening in a culture that views sex in such extremes. Be sexy, but don’t be a slut. Sex is taboo, but it’s also where girls are told to find their worth. Sex is the most intimate experience you can share with someone, but treat it like it’s completely worthless and casual. Those contrasts are fascinating, but they’re also real obstacles that girls have to face today.

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El Space: All of your characters are very memorable and vivid. How did you come to create your point of view characters—Kurt and Marion?
Ingrid: Kurt came about as an exercise at Vermont College. In an early draft of this book Kurt was a throw-away character that dumped Marion and then disappeared. As an exercise, my adviser had me write my scenes from the POV of the other characters—not my protagonist. This was really difficult. I realized Kurt was this paper-thin character I was using as a chess piece for my plot. Once I had to develop him into a real person, he came alive. He was so vivid and compelling that I couldn’t stop writing in his voice. He took the book in a whole new direction. A better direction! It was awesome.

Marion on the other hand has been with me for over 10 years. She was the center of a previous screenplay and novel. I’ve spent draft after draft, new direction after new direction, trying to figure out how to write her story and do it justice. She’s haunted me. I’m so happy I finally found the story she wanted me to tell.

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El Space: Music plays an important role in this story. What was on your playlist as you wrote this book?
Ingrid: This is going to come as a surprise, but I can’t listen to music when I write. I find it really distracting. Thus, there’s no playlist for this book. In fact, I had to poll my friends to come up with songs my characters would talk about in the book. I’m not a music person at all! I spent three days listening to all the songs my friends suggested on YouTube so I could figure out what Kurt and his mom would be into.

A couple of my favorites were (1) “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake—this is the type of song I see Kurt playing with his mom—(2) “Drifting” by Andy McKee. Watch this YouTube video and you’ll be mesmerized by the physical way Andy McKee plays the guitar. This is how I imagine Kurt’s mom playing her instrument. There’s a little bit of genius and escape in the way she plays.

El Space: You mentioned some characters from fairy tales in the story. How did these familiar stories influence your writing?
Ingrid: I feel like fairy tales create a “dream” for young people, and girls in particular. We’re told that we will one day meet our charming prince and magically live happily ever after. That story is reinforced over and over again in media. In a way, we start to feel entitled to that dream. And then we feel betrayed or like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t find our prince.

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This really shows the power of storytelling. How many of us believe that hard work will pay off in the end, or that love will conquer all? But is any of that really true? Or is it a story we’ve heard in books and television? I find I’m interested in the juxtaposition of fairytale themes against the harsh reality of the world we live in.

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El Space: A controversial Bustle article gave seven reasons for writing a YA novel. I won’t ask you for seven. But I’d like to know how you came to write for young adults.
Ingrid: I definitely didn’t write a novel I could buy the perfect shoe/dress combo for my book launch on Saturday, Dec 5th (as implied by reason #7 in that article). In fact . . . I have no idea what I will wear.

I actually started out writing dramatic screenplays when I was getting my MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. One of my first screenplays was a college drama called Virgin, and that screenplay was the seed for All We Left Behind. The character of Marion was the star of that film. The path to YA came from learning that Marion’s story was extremely internal and thus hard to communicate visually as a film. We often complain that a movie isn’t as good as the book, but we forget that movies are a very specific form of storytelling that simply can’t communicate in the same way as a novel.

Once I discovered the story was too internal for a film, I switched to novel writing. Hence the second MFA in novel writing from Vermont College. Novels are a whole different beast than screenwriting! I also got a lot of feedback that the story’s themes would be better suited in high school than college. So, I made the leap to YA and I love it!

El Space: Which book authors or screenwriters inspire you?
Ingrid: I love that you asked about screenwriters as well as authors! My few of my favorite screenwriters are Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz), Alex Garland (Sunshine; Never Let Me Go), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), and Aaron Sorkin (West Wing; The Social Network). They all have such different voices, but you can really “feel” their voice in a film.

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Sarah Polley and Aaron Sorkin

I’m also really inspired by authors who take risks or are masters of language. The ones that jump to mind are Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeanette Winterson, and Beth Kephart. They all make me fall in love with words over and over again.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Ingrid: I’m working on a few different projects, but none of them are fully formed enough to say exactly what they are. I’ve got a Peter Pan project, a fantasy concept about Greek Muses, and a summer romance with lots of kissing! I don’t really like defining my novels before I know what they are. I’d hate to tell my readers I’m working on XYZ, only to later tell them that project died in the beautiful flames of revision. 🙂

El Space: Thanks Ingrid for being my guest!

Ingrid: Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast!

Looking for Ingrid? Look here:
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Pinterest
Website

All We Left Behind is available here:
IndieBound
Amazon
B&N
Book Depository

But comment below to be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of All We Left Behind. Because I will feature another book giveaway this month, I will announce the winner of both books on December 14.

Book covers courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg and Goodreads. Prince from ebay.com. Maine map from ezilon.com. Sarah Polley from imdb.com. Aaron Sorkin from ibtimes.com.

What Do You Take Seriously?

I’ll bet I know what you want—to know who won Meg Wiviott’s novel, Paper Hearts. If that statement totally confused you, click here to read the interview with Meg Wiviott and get caught up. All set? Can you wait a few minutes while I blather on a bit? Thanks.

Ant-Man-Movie-PosterA friend and I headed to the cheap theater to see Ant-Man recently, having had little time to see it in the previous month. I won’t spoil the movie for you, so don’t worry. Actually, this post isn’t so much about the movie as it is about a quote from Entertainment Weekly’s review of it. And yes, I will not spoil that either. The review, written by Chris Nashawaty, included this line:

Like Chris Pratt, he’s [actor Paul Rudd] smart enough not to take these films too seriously or fall prey to Marvel’s tendency to be morose and heavy.

Smart enough not to take these films too seriously. I could read all sorts of things into that statement. But I won’t. Instead, I’m reminded of a page from my own life—the second semester of my grad program, when I thought I was “smart enough” not to take something seriously. I handed my advisor a 126,000-word fairy tale I’d written before entering the program, feeling a bit proud of myself. She read it and gave it back. I’ll never forget what she said. “I liked some of it. But you need to take writing more seriously.”

I was all, “What you talkin’ ’bout, woman?” like Gary Coleman in the old TV show, Diff’rent Strokes. But after fuming, I realized she was right. I had written a parody of a fairy tale, rather than a fairy tale. With every silly scenario, I showed not what I loved about the genre, but rather contempt instead. I acted as if I was so far above it all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a slam against parodies. I grew up reading Mad magazine and watching Saturday Night Live. But what my advisor explained was that I needed to learn the hard work of writing a compelling story instead of merely poking fun at stories written by others—a fact evinced by my so-called fairy tale. (More like fairy stale.)

When author/illustrator Grace Lin visited my campus one semester, she showed some of her illustrations. If you’ve seen her books, you’re familiar with her cartoony style. But these illustrations were gorgeously complex like the border of the book cover below. As she explained, she had to learn the hard work of composition, design, and color in order to develop her own style. In other words, she had to take art seriously.

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Charles Yallowitz also comes to mind as I think of someone who takes writing seriously with his Legends of Windemere books. Yes, they have a lot of humor. If you follow his blog at all, however, you know he’s studied the fantasy genre for many years and regularly posts about the craft of writing fantasy novels.

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I took my advisor’s advice. Want to know something ironic? The middle grade book I’m finishing probably has more humor in it than that parody I wrote—the result of taking writing seriously. *shrugs*

What have you discovered recently that you need to take seriously? While you ponder that, I’ll move onto the winner of Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.

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That person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Geralyn of Where My Feet Are

Congratulations, Geralyn! Please comment below to confirm and email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail information and phone number for book delivery.

Nashawaty, Chris. “Ant-Man.” Entertainment Weekly 24 July 2015: 43. Print.

Ant-Man poster from fatmovieguy.com. Meg Wiviott author photo and cover courtesy of the author. Grace Lin book cover from Goodreads.

The Stanton Effect: Drama Is Anticipation Mixed with Uncertainty

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiI’d like to welcome back to the blog Laurie Morrison, who is an awesome teacher, young adult novelist extraordinaire, and a great friend from VCFA. You probably know her from her blog, which you can get to by clicking here. Laurie’s guest post is for the series, The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. You can find Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk here.

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After reading Laurie’s post, please stick around for a special announcement. And now, I’ll turn the blog over to Laurie.

Last weekend, I went to the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I got some very helpful feedback on the contemporary young adult novel I’m working on. Four other writers read the beginning of my work in progress, asked some great questions, and offered some wise suggestions.

“Try to avoid a mean girl as an antagonist because it’s predictable,” one told me. “There isn’t going to be a love triangle, is there?” another writer asked. “That guy doesn’t end up being the right one for the main character, does he?” someone else said. “And I hope her mom gets redeemed a little.”

I haven’t finished drafting this new novel yet, and these other writers’ thoughts helped me crystallize my sense of where the story is going. They confirmed what I had planned for some parts of the plot and encouraged me to reconsider others so that the story will be satisfying but not predictable.

As I watched the Andrew Stanton TED talk that L. Marie shared, the insight that stood out to me was the idea that drama equals anticipation mixed with uncertainty. I take this point to mean that readers should have an idea of what they hope will happen at the end of a story. If there’s a romance element, as there is in my work in progress, that romance becomes more compelling if the reader is rooting for a certain outcome. However, the reader should also feel some genuine uncertainty about how (and maybe if) that outcome will happen.

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With some kinds of stories, readers come in with expectations about the kind of ending that’s in store for them. If a book has a fairly light, humorous tone, as my stories tend to have, readers anticipate a happy ending of sorts. But the challenge, as Stanton suggests, is to balance that anticipation with enough uncertainty so that the conclusion of the story won’t feel too easy. The ending should feel inevitable but not obvious.

I’ve been reading a lot of great books lately, including Sarah Tomp’s My Best Everything, which came out recently, and Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, which comes out at the end of this month. Both of these books are contemporary realistic YA. Both are well written. And both manage to balance anticipation with uncertainty. But the two books have very different tones, and therefore they handle the anticipation-uncertainty balance very differently.

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In Sarah Tomp’s My Best Everything, I never took for granted that there would be a happy ending. The book has some lighthearted moments, but an ominous feeling pervades the narrative. The main character, Lulu, makes moonshine to earn the money she needs to pay her college tuition, and even though Lulu doesn’t always realize just how dangerous the moonshine business can be, Tomp makes its perils very clear to the reader. The ending has an inevitable feeling, since it capitalizes on elements that are raised throughout the story, but it definitely isn’t predictable. I wanted to get to the end of the book precisely because there was so much uncertainty: about whether or not Lulu gets to go to college, about what happens to her relationship with the boy she’s falling for, and even about whether or not that boy survives.

In Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, the characters deal with plenty of heavy stuff, but based on the tone and the way the book is packaged, I was expecting a happy ending. There’s a love story at the center of the novel, and I would have been very disappointed if Paige, the main character, hadn’t ended up with the guy I wanted her to end up with. Even though I anticipated something pretty specific from the ending, the novel has enough uncertainty to be very compelling. There are some believable obstacles that keep Paige from getting together with the right guy too soon, and Paige’s love story isn’t the only part of her journey—she has a lot of other important, satisfying relationships and goes through a lot of other growth. I wanted to keep reading to find out how close to the end Paige and her guy would get together and whether I would be satisfied with the way it all happened, and I also wanted to see how the other elements of her journey would turn out.

My work in progress is more similar in tone to The Start of Me and You than My Best Everything, so my challenge will be to make readers root for an outcome they’re pretty sure will happen while incorporating enough obstacles and surprises to earn a happy ending. As I keep writing and revising, I’ll definitely keep thinking about maintaining an effective mix of anticipation and uncertainty, as Andrew Stanton suggests.

Thanks, Laurie, for a great post! Other posts in the series can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Speaking of good books, I’m delighted to announce the winner of Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy.

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Drum roll, please. . . .

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Sibson!

Laura, congratulations! Please comment below to confirm.

Book covers from Goodreads. Anticipation poster from redvinesandredwine.blogspot.com. Uncertainty sign from abouthydrology.blogspot.com. Drum roll gif from giphy.com.

Check This Out: Don’t Touch

After reading the title, maybe like me you have MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” going through your mind right now. Well, my guest today will change that tune. In the house is the marvelous Rachel M. Wilson, author of Don’t Touch, a young adult novel that debuted this month. Isn’t the cover beautiful? You can read the synopsis here.

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Rachel is represented by Sara Crowe. Don’t Touch was published by HarperTeen. After I finish talking with Rachel, I’ll talk to you about a giveaway. So strap yourselves in. Before we get started though, check out this book trailer:

Cool huh? Let’s talk to Rachel!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Rachel: I’m a Scorpio. I love Ethiopian food more than any other cuisine and eat it about once a week. In my last show, I played a harmonica solo. I almost always wear a turquoise ring that belonged to my grandmother. She was a geologist and liked uncut stones, so her husband had it set for her.

El Space: Cool! Please give us the scoop on Don’t Touch. How did this book come about?
Rachel: The book grew out of my own experience with OCD. Like Caddie, I started dealing with OCD symptoms around age ten, and I still struggle with anxiety. Caddie’s story isn’t my own, but that was the first inspiration. I wanted to explore how fears—rational and irrational—can separate us from other people and from pursuing what we love. And while I’ve never gotten the chance to perform in a full production of Shakespeare, I’m a big fan, and I’ve long loved Hamlet. Once I landed on that as the play within my book, my story path felt clearer.

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El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of slipping into Caddie’s skin?
Rachel: Probably figuring out her relationship with her parents. It was hard for me to be mean to Caddie when it came to her changing family, and it took me a long time to find the balance between love and disappointment in her relationship with her father.

El Space: What, if anything, would you like to see more of in young adult fiction? Why?
Rachel: Oh, wow! Great question! Apart from diversity, which I think most of us are really hungry for, I’d love to see more genre-mashing and more magical realism. Those are two things I respond to as a reader, and I think they stretch the mind in challenging ways. As readers of Don’t Touch will probably glean, I have a thing for superheroes, so I certainly wouldn’t mind a badass superhero trend.

El Space: Me too! You also act and teach. How does either profession influence your writing?
Rachel: You know, I’m an introvert, but I’m also a very social creature. Theater is the most collaborative art, and teaching can be highly collaborative too. It’s very important to me to have a place where I go and make things with other people, and it makes it easier for me to sit alone with my computer if I know I’m on my way to spend time with other people.

Aside from that more practical answer, teaching writing to younger kids always perks up my own excitement and energy for writing. It’s a great reminder of why I love it. And theater got me started writing. I would write from the points of view of characters I was playing, and I did a lot of collaborative writing projects in theater, and eventually, I started feeling ready to try my own stories.

El Space: You graduated from both of my alma maters: VCFA and Northwestern University. Yay! I attended NU 100 years before you, however. How did each of your programs leave its mark on you?
Rachel: I didn’t know that! Awesome! I was in the theater program at Northwestern—as an actor there, you join a class that stays intact for three straight years. My teacher was very spiritual, into meditation and Tai Chi as well as some physically and emotionally aggressive schools of acting. One day, I was prepping to bring in a scene from Euripedes’s Orestes, where Orestes and Electra are about to be executed, and our teacher warned us to wear running shoes to class! It wasn’t uncommon for people to get picked up and tossed around and totally break down on stage. Playing around with all of that within a safe community had a huge impact on me. I credit it with teaching me how to be an open, creative person. And as I said above, acting out other people’s stories gave me that drive to write my own.

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And VCFA! I can’t say enough positive things about that program. The residencies feel like writers’ summer slash boot camp, and it’s another magical place where the community feels drawn together in an inevitable way. And then working with advisors over months at a time, it’s a true mentorship. I’ve never had a relationship quite like that with another artist, and through that program, it happens four times in a row. It stretched my writing muscles in ways that I hadn’t been able to accomplish on my own and gave me the support to push through the hard stuff and finish a book.

El Space: I know you know a ton of authors, so this next question is usually a delicate one to answer. But I’ll ask it anyway: what books, authors, or actors inspire you? Why?
Rachel: How about I stick with authors I don’t know well? Nova Ren Suma, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Libba Bray always inspire me. In different ways, there’s something so present and tangible in their writing that slams me right into their worlds. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races blew me away with its perfection of world and character, and I need to read more of her work. In middle grade land, I feel the same way about Zilpha Keatley Snyder and E. L. Konigsburg. The Headless Cupid and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth are two of my longtime faves, as is Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. As all of the above are at least a little dark and creepy, that might give you a sense of how my tastes trend.

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El Space: Any advice for the writer who wants to incorporate the theater in his or her fiction?
Rachel: Choose your story within a story with care. Bringing another story into play changes the story you’re telling, even if the play within the story is an invented one. That story will probably be the weightiest metaphor or mirror in your work, so it’s important to understand it inside and out and to have a clear thesis for how it’s in conversation with your own and how the roles your characters take on challenge them and serve as foils for them. And you need to remain open to finding connections you may not have consciously realized were there—the art of the mash-up comes into play.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Rachel: I have several irons in the fire, but the one I’m most focused on right now deals with the aftermath of a shocking change and coming into power. I’m being cagey because you never know how things will develop. The next thing readers will see from me is a short story, “The Game of Boys and Monsters,” out from HarperTeen Impulse as a digital short. It’s suspenseful and creepy, very different from Don’t Touch, about two girls whose friendship changes when the enigmatic Marsh boys move to town.

Rachel, thanks for stopping by! I’m looking forward to that short story!

And thanks to all who stopped to read this interview. You can be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Don’t Touch just by commenting below.

Don’t Touch is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s

Looking for Rachel? Check out her website and Twitter. And check out Goodreads and the Don’t Touch Book Club Guide.

Winner to be announced on Tuesday, September 30.