Sunday, July 15, 2018

Grand Isle Part 2

 Sometimes we stumble onto the most wonderful of places by chance. Me going to Grand Isle was not by chance; it was very purposeful. However, I had absolutely no idea what type of place I was walking into. I've heard some stories about this tiny little island, been warned to be careful, but now, after spending less than 24 hours there, I can't imagine why. I have never been to a more welcoming, relaxing, charming place in my life. 
I can't name one other place with a tourism director like Louise "Weezy" or a restaurant owner/council woman like Leoda Besson who'll drive you all over the island in her golf cart, the very first golf cart on the island, in fact. She's a trendsetter. I can't name another place where you can stand in the same spot and see both the sunrise and the sunset or a place with wonderful wildflowers that greet you at the entrance to the beach. 
Yesterday was a rough first day of our mini vacation; there's no doubt about that. But today made up for every last bit of wrong turns creaky motel beds or loud AC boxes. We started the day off with breakfast at Yum's (the name says it all). Which might very well be the only breakfast place on the island--also a drive through. I don't think I've ever heard of a drive through breakfast place before. We had some delicious mini beignets and and a full breakfast. Afterward, I was asking our waitress if she was from the island and if she could tell me what life was like. She was a new return, after being gone for many years, and told me the woman I needed to talk to was Yum, the owner of the restaurant, aka Leoda. So Miss Leoda comes up to me asking what I want to know about the island. 
"Anything. I want to know anything you can tell me."
"Well, you got some minutes? I can take you around in my golf cart." I'm sorry, but what other town will you find someone just willing to give you a free tour of their town, taking time out of their sunday morning??
But while she went to go collect her golf cart, we made our way down to the Grand Isle Tourism Center, which is in the middle of town next to the dilapidated butterfly dome (I still find it charming and cute, even if it isn't finished), where we met Mrs. Weezy and her husband Darrell. Weezy and Darrell are raising a daughter who's considered different in their tiny island town because she's uber intelligent and loves to binge read. I told Mrs. Weezy that she's normal in my world--the type of girl I'd definitely be hanging out with! But my mom had talked to Weezy on the phone, told her my story of writing and getting published and my success so far, and this apparently gave Weezy all the hope in the world for her daughter. Thirty seconds after Isidora and I walked through the door, she was hugging us, teary-eyed and stuffing a basket full of goodies for us. 
For the next hour, we just talked and talked. I learned more about the island from Mr. Darrel, who's lived there all his life. They are just some of the warmest, kindest people I have ever met, and I am beyond thankful that my visit could help ease their worry about their daughter in some way. Natalie, if you're reading this, you're awesome. Don't let anybody make you think otherwise. 
After we left the tourism center with our basket stuffed full of goodies, we went back to Yum's and started our golf cart tour with Leoda, and oh my, I've never received such information from a tour guide before! She took us back into the real part of Grand Isle, back where the locals live and where the remaining Acadian built houses are, and through the haunted neighborhood of Grand Isle and then down Post Lane where the ghost of Jean Lafitte is said to roam. We weaved in and out of these wooded areas with great magnolia trees, talking about history, about her childhood on the island, about how many people come here to create new lives for themselves, and it just hit me that this really is the perfect place for the third book of Ascension. You'll see why :) 
But she drove us down the beach, critiquing people who were crabbing incorrectly. We saw a school of dolphins right near the shore, which just absolutely made my morning, as if it wasn't already fantastic enough. It was a beautiful day; there were tons of people out fishing and enjoying the weather and each other's company. 
I just can't imagine a more idyllic day spent with some of the most wonderful people I've ever met in my life. The lesson from all this, I guess, is when you go to new places, don't be afraid to ask questions. My mom asked questions when we were finding a place to stay, which led to a wonderful morning with Mrs. Weezy and Mr. Darrell. And I asked questions at breakfast this morning, which led to a fantastic golf cart ride with about as local a woman as I could find. This has been one of the most wonderful adventures I could've ever asked for. 
So to Isidora, thank you for being my travel buddy and going with the flow. 
To Mrs. Weezy and Mr. Darrell, thank you for being the kindest of humans, giving us hugs and warmth, and absolutely making our morning. 
To Ms. Leoda, thank you for being the most fantastic tour guide we could've asked for. My book research wouldn't be complete without you. 
The people we met on Grand Isle are whole heartedly and unabashedly themselves, and that is something I strive for in the people that I surround myself with. 
Thank you, Grand Isle. I'll definitely be coming back for a second visit! 


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Book Research: Grand Isle, La

Let the mini vacation/book research begin (and nearly end...I'm on this little slice of land off the coast of New Orleans for less than 24 hours). But here we are, and I've already gotten so much information!
For those of you who have never heard of Grand Isle, Louisiana, it's one of the few coastal islands just off of New Orleans that basically acts as a buffer during hurricane season, which is why all of their houses and buildings are on stilts. This island has a long history with pirates, mainly the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte, who you might've heard of in some New Orleans/surrounding area legends. However, some of you English majors might recognize the name of the island from Kate Chopin's classic The Awakening. I can assure you first hand that as an English major who's read The Awakening twice for school, it is nothing like the idyllic, relaxing, upper class island that we've read about. But this is in no way a negative mark on the island's record.
Grand Isle is a charming town filled with local fisherman and laborers all living on houses of stilts. I noticed on the drive in that the majority of the houses have been named with phrases such as "Lit Mama's" and "Weathering Heights," hinting at the locals' fun, playful nature.
We checked into our Sand Dollar Motel room located at the very tip of the island where a fishing rodeo is happening (this is what the island is truly, internationally famous for) and they were hosting live music for some fishermen after a long day. Then we made our way back into the town where all the real action is :)
For those over 21, stop at the Island Daiquiri Drive Through for some excellent mixes to take with you  on your walk to the beach, which is just a short pass across the street (the eastern side is the best beaches, apparently host to several parties throughout the year). You'll walk up through the grassy pass and go through an entrance of a bushel of sunflowers (my favorite!). There's several entrances along the island with free parking, but if you park centrally in the town, it's not a bad walk at all! We spent some time on the beach as the sun was beginning to fall, and the weather was absolutely perfect! We had the heat of the sun on our backs with the cool breeze of the ocean on our faces. The beach proved to be a great stop because we got to talk to some locals about their views of the island (pretty much the point of coming to Grand Isle). They're local construction company owners who talked about how all they want is to get out of Grand Isle, and it just amazes them that so many international folks are traveling all across their world to come to the bottom of the real south. "Why in the heck do they want to come here?" It's just a tiny island town with a slow way of life.
The Starfish Diner has an amazing shrimp po-boy with lots of locals filling the tables. If you listen closely, you can hear the waitresses catching up with their tables that they haven't seen in awhile (bonus, you can bring your unfinished daiquiri in from next door as your drink).
We finished up the evening sitting on the dock of the bay outside of our motel, listening to "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding (hehe), where several guys were still fishing out on the dock, and there were even more boats still out on the water. I'm guessing that this is a 24- hour deal. The weather felt so nice with a cool breeze, almost to the point that I was chilly, but at the same time, my skin was sticky with humidity. When in Louisiana, right? I've pretty much forgotten what it's like to be an LA girl.

And that's day one of book research on Grand Isle. Guess I've given away the location of Book 3. Shhhhh don't tell the vampires!


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Clandestine Spotify Playlist

We're gearing up for the Clandestine book launch over here in good old Tennessee, and I honestly could not be more excited! I've been sitting on this book for nearly two years, so I cannot wait to share it with all of you. I know you might be getting a bit antsy worrying about what's going to happen to Cheyenne. Don't worry, she's ready to share the next part of her story!

But the might remember from last go-round that I created an Ascension playlist, along with particular character playlists as well. I've, of course, done the same for Clandestine, which I created after I wrote the first draft. The themes of the songs pretty much go chronologically through the plot of the book, so if you listen to it before you read it, you might get some very obscure hints about what's going to happen in the book :)

I always listened to this playlist when I was editing Clandestine to get me in the mindset and the New Orleans mood, and I honestly love it even better than my Ascension playlist. Give it a listen, get pumped for the book, and enjoy!! July 20th, here we come!!!

1. The City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie
2. broken by lovelytheband
3. Coming of Age by Maddie Medley
4. Black Out Days - Future Islands Remix by Phantogram
5. Hold Ya Head by The Notorious B.I.G. 
6. Please by Josiah and the Bonnevilles
7. Guilty Party by The National 
8. I've Given Up on You by Real Friends
9. Dreaming of You by The Coral
10. Meet Again by Langhorne Slim, The Law
11. Hunting Happiness by W. Darling
12. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free by Nina Simone
13. A closeness by Dermot Kennedy 
14. Disappear Here by Bad Suns
15. Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong But... by Arctic Monkeys
16. Cold Little heart by Michael Kiwauka
17. Say It Ain't So by Weezer
18. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by Ella Fitzgerald
19. Run for Cover by The Killers
20. On + Off by Maggie Rogers
21. Basic by Declan McKenna
22. Where Does the Good Go by Tegan and Sara
23. Stranger by Miki Fiki
24. Lil Dead Eye-d by Richard Edwards, Margo & the Nuclear So and So's
25. Under Your Spell by Futurebirds
26. Technicolor Room by Astronomy Club
27. After-hours by TroyBoi, Diplo, Nina Sky
28. Stonecold by machineheart
29. Kill and Run by Sia
30. Bludfire by Eva Simons, Sidney Samson
31. Rollup by Flosstradamus
32. Taste Like by Dan & Drum
33. Lose Feeling by The Copper Children
34. Hold Me to Ya by River Whyless
35. Cold Times by Brent Cowles
36. Ain't no Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant
37. No Good by Kaleo, Vinyl
38. Raise the Dead by Rachel Rabin
39. Wicked Ones by Dorothy
40. Heartbroken, In Disrepair by Dan Auerbach
41. Better Days by Hedley
42. Die Fun by Kacey Musgraves
43. Hallelujah by Pentatonix
44. Winterlong by Neil Young
45. Winter Is All Over You by First Aid Kit
46. Christmas Eve Can Kill You by The Everly Brothers 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying in Touch

The young adult literature world is an interesting, exciting place to exist in. It's supportive, inclusive, and pushing the boundaries of great literature today. One of the frequently asked questions, since a majority of young adult authors are not actually young adults themselves, is how do you stay in touch with that part of yourself enough to write about it?
To me, that question was never relevant. When I was a teenager writing Ascension, time is frozen. I thought I'd never be older than a teenager...maybe I was in that vampire mindset a little bit too strongly. But at that point in your life, it's just hard to imagine being older than you already are, dealing with what we know call "adulting." I was fully ready to join Cheyenne in aging as slowly as possible, though I had no desire to take on her gargantuan problems.
In college, it wasn't even really that much different. Despite all the growing you do in higher education between the years of 18-22, you're still very connected to your teenage self. I can still feel very clearly the teachers who told me I wasn't reaching my potential, the first time I put myself out there to a guy and was turned down, the first time my friends betrayed me, the first time I really fought with my parents. The young adult years are a time of drama, of heightened emotions.
But even now, barely 22, I'm able to look back and see how absolutely dramatic I was and wonder exactly what I was thinking. So now I have to start asking myself--how do I stay connected to that part of myself to still be able to write young adult fiction?
There's two parts to this answer. First part--Cheyenne's voice lives in my head. I don't plan what she's going to do; she just does it through my keyboard. So she makes it easy.
Second part--so what about all the books that I'm going to write in the future? The ones I'm working on right now? That's where the real question lies, correct? I read. Okay, let me clarify, I read as much as I can get my hands on in as many genres as possible, but specifically, I have to keep up with the young adult literature, to support my community and also to stay in touch. I listen to conversations in coffee shops, or in lines at the store, or at restaurants--sorry guys, yes I am creeping. I talk to teachers to see what their students are like now.
But I realized this past weekend that I have still definitely held onto the child in myself. Yes, I am a young adult who's becoming more of an adult and less young as the days tick by. But my childhood is still fresh, my teenage years are clear. I have no shame in loving disney, in sleeping with a stuffed animal, or enjoy running around blowing bubbles with a giant bubble wand or wearing a paper flower crown on my head.
This is something that everyone should tap into though, every once in awhile at least. Being a kid is wonderful and difficult all at the same time. There's nothing wrong with tapping into that sense of wonder and innocent fun, abandoning your "adulting" abilities one day to fly a kite in the park, re-read your favorite kid's book even if you don't have kids, or just spend a good hour blowing bubbles and trying to catch them. If you need some help tapping into that mindset, just pick up one of the many wonderful children/middle grade/young adult books in the world now. They're totally immersive and will send you reeling back into that dramatic, wonderful time of your life.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Memory of Books

Books are memories. I've always heard this and never really though too much about it. But as the stresses of the summer started to set in--figuring out how to move to England, writing book 3, editing another book, and work--I deconstructed my personal library, a therapeutic exercise. I took all my books off their shelves, spreading them out in alphabet piles, which takes up my room and goes into the hallway.

It was slightly stressing me out that my books weren't in alphabetical order and that books from the same author weren't together or that series were split up. This always stresses me out (I'm weird), and now that I have bookshelves in two different rooms, that makes it even worse.

But as I pick up each book to alphabetize it, type into my inventory, and re-shelve it, memories flash back to me of when in my life I was reading each book, where I was, things that were happening around me. And that's kind of amazing to me--the fact that the written word has left that much of an impression on my mind that I can say, yes I was reading this book when I was here, doing this.

My favorite example--I was twelve years old when Twilight hit it big. I read the series in a week, right before the announcement of the movie was made. But I was reading them in Mississippi, while I was staying at my grandmother's house. As many other people probably remember from their time reading Twilight, I could not put them down, could not read them fast enough. I read well into the night, when my grandmother believed I was sleeping.

At this time, there were other people in the house, so I was sleeping in my grandmother's bed with her. I believe I'd just finished the third book, when suddenly I woke up to, "Hannah, Hannah, what are you saying? Why are you standing up?" I had apparently slept walked out of bed, done a loop around the house, and returned to my grandmother's room, saying, "I can't find the sunlight!"

I went peaceably back to sleep, but the next morning, my grandmother said to me, "I don't think you should be reading those scary vampire books anymore." :D I obviously did not follow this advice, quite the opposite actually.

But just going through all these books, it was a lot of fun, thinking, "Oh, I bought this book there," "Oh, this person recommended this book to me," "Oh, I read this book on the plane back from Portland," "Oh, this was the book that I threw against the wall at the end of it!" (PS it was a Maggie Stiefvater book).

Books are a walk through memory lane. I encourage you to go back through your personal library and reminisce with your books. It's a wonderful way to spend time an evening, or in my case, three evenings :)

Happy Reminiscing,

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review of The Hidden Worlds by Sandra Ingerman and Katherine Wood

"Inspiring and powerful. The Hidden Worlds is an important, educational, imaginative story that will help all readers walk away with knowledge, caring, empathy, and a sense of purpose that will challenge them to effect a change in the real world." 

-Hannah Rials, author of Ascension -Hannah Rials, author of Ascension 

The primary purpose of reading, apart from enjoyment, is, of course, to learn and expand our world. Sandra Ingerman and Katherine wood's new young adult novel The Hidden Worlds packs a lot of lessons into a short story and explores a world of mysticism--shamanism--that many do not have knowledge of.

Four young students, who are complete opposites, are coincidentally in the same place at the same time and end up being tied together when they discover hundreds of dead birds in the forest just outside of their school, and then notice that all the fish in the pond have died as well.

Later that night, they are joined together in their dreams and discover that they each have their own spirit animals who are meant to guide them through life, especially this transitionary time through puberty and into high school. Once in the dream, they start discussing all of the dead animals they found and decide they have to get to the bottom of the animal murder.

Upon further investigation, the four new friends discover that a building just outside of school bounds has been dumping toxic waste into the pond. The students are enraged that a company could get away with something like this, but they are at a loss of what to do about it.

I really enjoyed the way that Ingerman and Wood worked shamanism into this story by having the students use this form of spirituality and understanding to address problems that they would normally turn to adults for help with. However, they can't do that in this situation since they are in a place they're not supposed to be, messing around with a dangerous company. These four kids have more spiritual understanding than most adults, and are also more moralistically sound--accepting all body types, seeing everyone for what they are good at, dealing with different family issues, puberty, environmental sustainability, saving animals, and shamanism. Really all of the above. These women pack a punch with all of these lessons in just one book.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Adventure Tourism Round 2 & 3

So because I'm the worst, this is going to contain Adventures 2 & 3. But I'm also excusing myself due to it being the last three weeks of school, and I've gone down the rabbit hole and the burning light is near and all those cliches. So anyway...ADVENTURING!

Last week was probably the most adventurous, bravest moment of my entire life. Not the hiking part. The hike was beautiful. We traversed 2.5 miles from Rainbow Lake, which is mossy and spectacular, all the way up to Edwards Point, a huge cliff at the tip top of Signal Mountain. The trail up to this place is super rocky and muddy, so I do not recommend for people with bad joints or bad balance (yes, I include myself in that category, which is why my ankle is now slightly messed up). However, the view was absolutely, 100% worth it. We could see into Chattanooga and the river bend. Absolutely lovely. But here comes the adventurous part. I repelled down the cliff. Yep, little old me went over the edge. I don't live life on the edge, guys. I live over it. Ha! I will say, it took me a VERY long time to convince myself to do it, and granted, I did not do it well. I got over the edge just fine. It was the holding onto the rope and controlling my speed that got me. After 3 surgeries on my right wrist, I don't have too much grip strength in my right hand. But here's a tip--lean back more than you think you can. Leaning forward just makes you go free falling down the cliff, which I did. But I did it, and I'm extremely proud of myself. Probably will never do it again. But I recommend doing it at least once in your life time, at the very least for the free falling adrenaline.

Then today, though I thought we were going climbing, we actually ended up canoeing down Nickajack Lake, which is actually not a lake at all but a reservoir with train tracks running through the water. It was quite windy and freezing this morning to be out on the choppy water, but again, it was beautiful and a lot of fun. I sat in the front for the first half of our ride, and believe me, I feel it in my shoulders for sure. But we paddled to these sloping cliffs where people typically Free Solo Climb and then leap into the water safely without fear of hitting any rocks. We would've done it--I would've done it (badly)--but it was ridiculously cold so the class unanimously passed on that opportunity.

On the way back to the dock, in our boat of friends, we competed with the rest of the boats on who was going to win, though they didn't know that. We definitely cut a few people off several times. Even though I was sitting in the middle at this point and wasn't supposed to be paddling, I paddled anyway so that we came in a strong second place in a competition that only existed in our minds. This was probably the best day by far.

(Fun Sidenote, one of the leader's boats started pulling out a net and a life vest, and we are 50% sure that there very well might be a body at the bottom of the lake..............)

So who knows what's going to happen next week! But I hope you continue along for the last two weeks of my adventures (that includes college as a whole...what?!?!)

Happy Trails,