Today’s guest post is written by my friend and fellow, Playlist Fiction author, Rajdeep Paulus. She discusses inner strength, character development and her latest release, Seeing Through Stones, the sequel to her heart wrenching debut young adult novel, Swimming Through Clouds (both from Playlist Fiction).
At a recent book signing for Seeing Through Stones, an attendee asked the question, “Where does Talia (the protagonist) get her strength?”
Talia, as those of you who read Swimming Through Clouds know, has a heart-breaking background, one of which will require her to muster immense strength to get through. But like the average human (we’re talking all of us who don’t have super powers), she cannot hurdle life’s struggles without help. Talia’s help comes in a tri-fold package.
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Primarily, the first book opens with Talia finding a Post-it note. And then a second. And then several more. Her initial source of strength trickles into her heart via the words of a boy, Lagan, who is smitten over her. He not only drops petals of hope in her pathway, but he also asks her questions, never demands an answer, and shares his heart with her in little yellow square sheets. When their relationship develops to more face-to-face conversations, Lagan promises to “fight for her.” So, the hero has a crush on Talia, and as she starts to fall for him, she finds strength in him.
Talia’s second source of strength comes from her mother, or rather the memories of her mom. Talia remembers some of her deceased mother’s words, especially the plea to take care of Jesse, her brother. Deep down, Talia wants to honor her mother’s broken hearted life by not giving up, and perhaps fulfilling some of her mother’s extinguished dreams in her own life. In Seeing Through Stones, Talia has escaped the wrath of her life and found sanctuary at a women’s shelter. The women at the shelter are another huge source of strength for Talia, sharing their stories to remind Talia she’s not alone, suggesting ways to fight back she had never thought of before and filling in some of the gaps of the mom she’s lost.
Finally, the source of strength that allows Talia a new perspective of her life, shows her purpose, and reminds her of her worth comes from a Friend who speaks to her at a garden and in her dreams. A Friend she cannot see. He is referred to as The Gardener. I never name who The Gardener is, but I use symbolism to point readers to see He is no one other than Jesus. Thinking of how C.S. Lewis created Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, I longed to create a character who offered the main character hope in a way no human could. When I placed Talia under the willow tree in Chicago’s Botanical Garden, the idea of The Gardener naturally arose.
What I love about The Gardener is His ability to speak to Talia through nature. The broken branches of the willow. A sunny or cloudy day. The dirt of the earth. I also treasure the fact that He slowly becomes the father figure Talia always longed for. But my favorite aspect of their relationship is the freedom Talia has to disagree with Him. To not embrace everything He says without questioning Him. To not always get answers. I think these details authenticate Talia’s journey with The Gardener, because the strongest relationships are the ones that have been tested, and His omniscient nature allows Him to show up, regardless of Talia’s day or situation.
In the end, I think Talia’s journey is not unlike our own. We need friends and family to help us through the madness of this life. Similarly, our pasts shouldn’t dictate our futures, but we are shaped by what we’ve been through and by loved ones who have left us. Finally, many of us depend on someone bigger than ourselves. God. The Creator. The one who invented love, faithfulness, peace, and hope.
And if by changing Jesus’ name to The Gardener, a few more people connect with the universal longing to be loved and accepted, pursued and treasured, Talia’s journey will be more than a success for me.
Ultimately, all these sources bolster the muscles of Talia’s resolve and influence her not to give up. Because in the end, we all need someone who won’t give up on us. That’s what helps us to keep on keepin’ on. Yep. We all need that. Especially for those times when we give up on ourselves.
And you? Who is your source of strength? Ever receive a Post-it love note? Just curious.
The much anticipated sequel to the Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill released this week from Playlist Fiction.
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“I’m carving out my own place in the world, and I get to choose what it looks like and who I’ll bring with me.” Ellie Sweet
The only problem is, in the Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, Ellie is trying to decipher what her place in the world truly entails, while untangling her mixed up emotions of which relationships in her life are worth fighting for.
Sounds like all of us in a way, doesn’t it? In this sequel to The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie finds being a published teen author isn’t all glamour. In fact there’s a lot of stress and backstabbing. Ellie is also still torn between the gorgeous Southern charmer playboy, Palmer, and the dark, handsome, intriguing, guy with a past, Chase. As Ellie decodes her heart, she discovers the path and the person she should choose to be isn’t necessarily good or bad, but what and who is best for her. Morrill identifies with the life of a teenager so well, the reader imagines Morrill herself, is a teen writer taking English class at the local high school. The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is a spot on story of how we all have insecurities and how answers aren’t always black and white. Readers of Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen will devour this contemporary tale. Ellie is so genuinely well intentioned yet humanly flawed, I would love to hang out with her or have her as a critique partner. And, I’d definitely want to borrow one of her t-shirts.
The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet picks up right where the prequel left off. For once, Ellie Sweet has it all together. Her hair now curls instead of fuzzes, she’s tamed the former bad-boy, Chase Cervantes (she has, right?), and her debut novel will hit shelves in less than a year. Even her ex-friends are leaving her alone. Well, except for Palmer Davis, but it can’t be helped that he works at her grandmother’s nursing home.
Life should feel perfect. And yet, it’s not that easy. Ellie’s editor loves her, but the rest of the publishing biz? Not so much. And they’re not shy about sharing their distrust over Ellie’s unlikely debut.
Ellie has always been able to escape reality in the pages of her novel, but with the stress of major edits and rocky relationships, her words dry up. In fiction, everything always comes together, but in real life, it seems to Ellie that hard work isn’t always enough, the people you love can’t always be trusted…and the dream-come-true of publishing her book could be the biggest mistake she’s made yet.
Stephanie Morrill lives in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. Her only talents are reading, writing, and drinking coffee, so career options were somewhat limited. Fortunately she discovered a passion for young adult novels and has been writing them ever since.
Stephanie is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, and the award-winning Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog,www.GoTeenWriters.com. You can also find her online at www.StephanieMorrill.com
Don't forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win an e-copy of The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. One winner will be chosen randomly from all comments submitted by Friday, November 15.
With the end of summer and the start of fall, there seem to be an overwhelming number of picnics and cookouts. Celebrating everything from team victories, to pool closings, Labor Day and new school years. All of them have one thing in common. Food.
Food is something my family loves.
But we have issues.
You see, both of my sons are gluten free, one of my daughters and my youngest son both have nut allergies and my oldest daughter and I don’t eat red meat. Talk about high maintenance! We’re picky and hard to feed, for various reasons, but mainly, so we can all stay healthy and safe.
We recently attended a cookout that was lovely. Our entire family had fun playing corn hole and chatting with friends, but we came home HUNGRY. How could that be? Because of our dietary needs, there wasn’t much for any of us to eat that was “safe”. When we got home, and I scoured the fridge for something to serve, I couldn’t help laughing and thinking this is exactly how it is living life in this world as a Christian.
We go about enjoying this life, attending school, work, sporting events, concerts, and yes, even cookouts, with everybody else. But we’re pickier, and sometimes can’t take part in what everyone else is consuming. I mean we could, but we’d end up not feeling well, off balanced, nauseous, or out of sorts. The cafeteria line of life is full of tempting choices; music and movies, magazines and word choice, what we say about others, how we treat others, how we treat and talk about ourselves. Some of these dishes are tasty – like gossip, but leave a bad aftertaste. Some of them, like listening to Toby Mac (instead of Drake) are like dark chocolate – hard to believe it’s good for you, so delish. And others are more like carrots, not the most popular choice, but crunchy and good for the way we see things. What if we all filled our plates with these choices everyday?
Don’t get me wrong. Christians don’t need to fast through life, but we do need to be picky as we go through the buffet line, for our own safety.
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 1 Peter 1:13-16 MSG
Sometimes this is awkward. Sometimes it’s downright difficult. It's usually uncomfortable. “How would you like your burger cooked?” is a difficult question to answer if you’re vegetarian. You don’t want to offend the host. Yet, you know the hamburger goes against your values.
How about this one…
“You have got to try the brownies, they are the best thing ever!”
You want the brownie. It’s gooey and chocolatey. You’re sick of having to pass up on all the “good stuff” because you’re gluten free, and even sicker of having to tell everyone you’re gluten free. But you know if you eat it you’ll have stomach cramps for days.
When we’re at the picnic of life, what should we do when someone says, “You have got to see Hangover 7, here I burned a copy for you.”? How do we react when a friend suggests to eat at the back table in the dining hall, so Katelyn, the clingy girl can’t find you?
As Christians we are encouraged to take the things that are good for us, and leave the things that aren’t in their serving dishes and crock pots. If that means leaving the party a little hungry, that’s okay. We can always go home and find something that satisfies our cravings. Christ will fill us up with love, strength and courage--all of the things that make us truly fulfilled.
What’s your favorite cookout food?
Almost everyone has eaten a cafeteria hot lunch. Almost everyone who’s eaten a hot lunch has regretted eating a hot lunch. I’ve graduated past the days of dining in the cafeteria; yet by some strange quirk in the universe have found myself on the other side of the line, dishing out food to my kids and their classmates at their school cafeteria. Even though I only perform this duty once or twice a month, I always have visions of hairnets and lumpy mashed potatoes the morning before I go. Thankfully the days of hairnets are gone, but I am required to wear a cap when I volunteer. Which is bizarre - if I’m volunteering, why am I being punished? Okay, because nobody wants hair in their food. So, I opt for my U2 black, military cap and keep my fingers crossed that I won’t be serving Salisbury steak.
Maybe that’s why Alex Bradley’s book, Hot Lunch, made me laugh so hard.
Alex Bradley dives into the head of a blue-haired sophomore, Molly, with a chip on her shoulder and a defense mechanism of total sarcasm to keep her from relationships and friendships of any kind, which she believes shelters her from being hurt. What headphone-wearing Molly doesn’t expect her sarcasm will get her is a catfight with a classmate in the cafeteria, resulting in a food fight, resulting in the ultimate punishment – lunchroom duty.
Although I’ve failed in the department of learning much while topping tater tots on trays, except for maybe some school gossip, Molly learns a lot about herself, others and the importance of fresh ingredients to make actual, edible, nutritious food.
Except for a few minor profanities throughout the halls of high school, Hot Lunch is a funny, tasty treat of a book with plenty for your mind and mouth to snack on (including a few simple recipes for the non-cooks in the audience).
What’s the worst (or best) thing you’ve ever been served on a cafeteria tray?
Laura L. Smith