February 24, 2014

Meet Marie Harris - Author of The Girl Who Heard Colors PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Happy Monday, Folks!

Before I forget, let me quickly mention that I'm visiting my friend Debby Lytton's MG writer blog today and I would love it if anyone wanted to go visit.  She is a very talented author and her book JANE IN BLOOM is not to be missed!  SO good!  The link is HERE.

Now then.  To stave off the Olympic withdrawal that I know you're all feeling, I have such a treat for you today!  First we get to talk with accomplished author Marie Harris, and afterwards one lucky person will have a chance to win a signed copy of her newest picture book, THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS!

Let's dive right in, shall we?

First, allow me to introduce Marie:

Marie Harris, author and poet
Marie Harris was NH Poet Laureate from 1999-2004 when she wrote her first children's book:
G is for GRANITE: A New Hampshire Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press). She lives in the woods with her photographer husband, Charter Weeks, and together they run a marketing business.  She loves birding, sailing, and swimming in the Isinglass River.

Marie is also the author of PRIMARY NUMBERS: A New Hampshire Numbers Book (Sleeping Bear Press) as well as several books of poetry for older readers: RAW HONEY (Alice James Books), INTERSTATE (Slow Loris Press), and WEASEL IN THE TURKEY PEN (Hanging Loose Press).  Her website is www.marieharris.com


SH: Welcome, Marie!  Thank you so very much for joining us today.  I recently had the pleasure of reading THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2013).  The book addresses an unusual subject: synesthesia.  I wondered what inspired you to write a picture book about it?

MH:  When I went in search of a new story to write, I “consulted” my own picture book—G is for GRANITE: A NH Alphabet Book—for ideas. I was looking for a New Hampshire woman who had not gotten the attention she deserved...at least not lately. I looked at the list on the “H” page (featuring Sarah Josepha Hale, the first editor of a women's magazine in America) and discovered I'd mentioned in passing Amy Beach, America's first female composer. So I set about learning everything I could about her. This turned out to be surprisingly easy, since the Beach archives are housed at the University of New Hampshire, a few miles from my home, and there are many recent recordings of her wonderful music. I fell in love! And I set about writing a novel for young readers with Amy as a character.


My agent sent out the first chapters and I was contacted by Nancy Paulsen at Penguin who, though not interested in the novel, was charmed that Amy had a wonderful “special sense” called synesthesia. (Her parents seemed to take their daughter's sound-color sense in stride, much as they did her gift of perfect pitch.) She felt that this subject would make a fine picture book. I agreed, but asked if I could change the protagonist to a contemporary little girl and give her a few difficulties that Amy Beach didn't have. And that's how I came to write THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS.

SH:  Can you tell us a little bit about synesthesia?

MH:  Synesthesia is quite a special gift to possess. Nonetheless, it does qualify as something that makes a person “different,” and that's sometimes uncomfortable. My little girl, Jillian (named after the first synesthete I met when she was in 4th grade), discovers that telling people that she “hears colors” causes her playmates to make fun of her and grownups to worry. However, she also discovers that talking about her special extra sense can result in a happy outcome.

As I visit classrooms as writer-in-residence or visiting writer, I have been astounded at the number of children who have an immediate answer to my casual question: ”What color is seven?” (Of course most kids look at me as if I'm a bit odd.) And once we agree that the student does, in fact, experience the “mixing” of senses (seeing letters and numbers in color, experiencing colors, and even tastes, with sounds) she can usually describe her gift in great detail. And she's usually pleasantly surprised at how interested her classmates are at this surprising bit of information.

I've become fascinated with the phenomenon, and so ask individuals (adults) and kids (usually in classrooms) a simple question or two that prompts a synesthete to reveal her/his gift. Someting to the effect of: What color is eight? or What do you see when you hear rock music?  or  Does anyone taste something when they hear a sound?  And here are some responses...

(from my ten-year-old pen pal in England)  One of my teacher's voices tastes like raspberries and tea; but another's voice tastes like spoiled cheesecake.

(from the 'real' Jillian)  Classical music is blue. Country music is olive green, and I hate country music and I hate olive green!

(from an 8th grader)  All my letters are in color. When I read, each sentence becomes a single color, then the paragraph does too, then the whole book ends up being a certain color. When I'm reading and my mind wanders, all the letters turn to black. When I start paying attention again, the colored letters reappear.

(from a 5th grader) Your voice is deep green with bubbles and sparkles.

(from an older woman who came to a library presentation) The other day, as I was slicing beautiful green and yellow and red bell peppers, I said to my husband: Can you hear those colors? He looked at me strangely. I think I'll stop saying those things out loud!

SH:  Do you do school visits?  What do they involve?

MH:  Because I work with students from K-12, I tailor my presentations accordingly.


With the very youngest kids, I read my book (s) leaving lots of time for the fantastic free-association offerings & questions that the words and pictures evoke. I try to give the teachers a few “ways into” the text and ideas as to how to pursue some of the ideas presented in the story.

Once students are reading and writing and talking more or less fluently, my visits take several shapes. I talk about how I came to writing. I tell stories about how the book(s) morphed from my notebooks to print, with lots of digressions and stories about the illustrators, the mistakes I made, the surprises I encountered, the things I learned.

With high school students, I work with their teachers to complement whatever projects they're involved in.

Often (depending on what the school wants and the time frames) I create writing projects with students at all levels.

What I try never to get enmeshed in are presentations to large groups in auditoriums. I explain to principals (who, understandably, want every kid in their school to be “exposed” to the visiting artist) that I'm not a puppet show or a string band. I feel I'm at my best (as are the kids) when we're working with me in relatively small groups with lots of opportunities for conversation.

All that said, I'm flexible and will work with every school to create a program that best fits their needs.
(Teachers, or parents who are active in their PTAs, Marie is available for school visits and you can contact her via her website or by email at marie[at]marieharris[dot]com.  Though she has yet to do a Skype visit, she is open to the possibility!)

SH:  What do you hope to accomplish with this wonderful book?

MH:  Jillian has one of a range of types of synesthesia. I hope that her story prompts parents and teachers to learn more about the phenomenon and to celebrate this and all the fascinating differences among their children.

SH:  Thank you so much for coming to chat with us today, Marie.  It's been such a pleasure!

Marie was kind enough to offer a signed copy of THE GIRL WHO HEEARD COLORS as a giveaway.  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment below.  We would love to hear about any experience you've had with synesthesia, either because you have it yourself, know someone who does, or have met someone with this unusual perception along your life travels.  If you have no experience with synesthesia, you can tell us about any other unusual perception traits you've encountered, or just tell us who you'd like the book for (and yourself is a perfectly good answer :))  Please leave your comment by Thursday February 27 at 5 PM EST.  A winner will be chosen by random.org and announced after Perfect Picture Books on Friday (where I will be sharing THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS :))

I have no experience with synesthesia, but I do have experience with unusual vision.  I have bilateral "wandering" eyes (which means both eyes can stop focusing and "wander", though 9 times out of 10 it's the left one that does because it's significantly weaker) in addition to rotary nystagmus (rapid, uncontrollable spinning of the eye) with the result that I am rarely able to focus both eyes at the same time and have very poor depth perception.  Ask anyone in my family - they will tell you how often I overflow cups thinking there's more room before the top, and fall up or down stairs because I misjudge the distance.  But don't worry - I might look a little funny, but I've learned to compensate pretty well most of the time and am able to drive a car and jump horses :)  What's a little spilled coffee between friends? :)

So, please share your stories and/or who you'd like to win the book for!  And if you have any questions for Marie, ask away.  She will be traveling this week, but I'm sure we can prevail upon her to answer any burning questions when she returns :)

As an added bonus, Marie is also visiting Tina Cho and Laura Sassi today, with advice for writers at Tina's and her "unlikely" story of how she became a children's writer at Laura's, so please hop over and see what she has to say on their blogs!  Tina also has a giveaway of the book!

Have a marvelous Monday everyone!!!  And please visit Debby's blog if you have a minute - she would love to meet you all!



Reactions:

75 comments:

  1. Wonderful, full interview, Susanna and Marie! I love this kid's answer to your question, Marie: "One of my teacher's voices tastes like raspberries and tea; but another's voice tastes like spoiled cheesecake." That's a riot!

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  2. This is such a fascinating interview and topic! It makes me think of how my daughter (who is now 19) has always thought of colors as having different personalities. It doesn't sound like quite the same thing, but I'm going to send a link to this interview to her. I'd love the book for my own picture book collection, but I definitely want to share the book with her. Thank you, Marie and Susanna! And Susanna, I'd love to have coffee with you any time, spilled or not! :-)

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  3. What a great interview and I am so intrigued by this book and about synesthesia- of which I was unaware. I think I would love to hear colors! As for unusual perceptions, I get occasional ocular migraines. They are benign and painless, but they come out of nowhere and for a half hour or so I will see wavy flashes of silvery light. They started many years ago and only happen a few times a year at most- so I am lucky about that. Thanks, Susanna and Marie!

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  4. Haha! I have never seen Susanna spill coffee or trip up the stairs!

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  5. Terrific interview, Marie and Susanna!

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  6. Oh my goodness! I have a sweet friend whose daughter has synesthesia. I must send her here right away...and then I'll visit you at the other blog. :)

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  7. What a great topic for picture books which appeal to so many of our
    senses! I hadn't heard of synesthesia, but now I'm intrigued and will
    definitely be reading Marie's book.

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  8. I have no experience with synesthesia but I'd love to win the book to learn more about it! I don't have any unusual perception traits (other than a wacked sense of humor)

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  9. Cool! I've not heard of synesthesia! It makes me wonder about more subtle gifts we take for normal in our own lives. Thanks for introducing us to Marie and her work!

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  10. What a great interview! I've already read Laura Sassi's and now I'm off to Tina's. This is so intriguing. I love that Marie is on all 3 blogs at the same time! And the book would be for my grandsons. One has had a love for music since he was only a few months old. He wouldn't reach for or play with the toys with children's music. Only the toys with classical music. It has been amazing to watch.

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  11. Iza, I get those, too! The first time it scared me and I went to ER. But once they explained it was a migraine aura caused by a blood vessel spasm, now I just wait it out. I'm glad it doesn't happen too often! :-)

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  12. Wow, Kim! That is so cool that your grandson shows such a marked preference for type of music at such a young age!

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  13. You know how I first heard of it, Julie? My daughter was watching Sweet Genius, and one of the contestants said she had it. It's fascinating, isn't it?

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  14. Hahaha :) I think a sacked sense of humor counts for something, Wendy :)

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  15. The whole topic is so fascinating, Melanie. I love learning about how people's brains can be wired so differently - it's very cool!

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  16. Oh my goodness, Iza! That sounds kind of cool, except if it accompanies a migraine it's probably very painful! Synesthesia is really interesting though!

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  17. I would love to have coffee with you too, Cheryl! :) And I think colors having personalities is very cool and definitely a little bit synesthete!

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  18. That just means we haven't spent enough time together yet, Iza :)

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  19. I know! I have to wonder which teacher that child liked better :)

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  20. :-) Synesthete. I love that word. :-)

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  21. That's such an amazing topic for a picture book. I can't wait to read it. And I think the idea of mining our own work for future story ideas is a good one. Thanks!

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  22. I know - we have looked all over finding things with classical music. As he is getting older he is taking in some of the other toys but he is picky :) And yet he is such a boy! Bashes and crashes with the best of them, lol. So much fun!

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  23. My daughter is a synesthete. She perceives letters and numbers in color, gender, and personality. Music and language also represent in color for her. The more I explore it with her, the more we discover. I think that's part of what makes it so fascinating-- we all have our own wildly different norms in how we experience the world.

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  24. Michelle Heidenrich BarnesFebruary 24, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    Really fascinating stuff! I will sometimes try to describe sounds with color and texture, but it doesn't come to me spontaneously as in Marie's examples. It's a shame that some children should be teased for having this gift. I would consider it a blessing. Thanks to Marie for writing this book and to Susanna for spotlighting it today.

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  25. It's so cool, isn't it, how people's brains can be wired so differently, allowing a unique perspective on the world. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Michelle, and hope you'll get a chance to read the book!

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  26. Thanks so much for stopping by, Sara. I hope you'll get a chance to read this book - it's beautifully done. I find synesthesia fascinating!

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  27. So true, Kirsten, especially when you write nonfiction - there are so many angles! Glad you think the book looks interesting :)

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  28. It's a great book Marie! Great interview, Susanna! Thanks for sharing with us.

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  29. Hi Susanna, this sounds like a great book! I would love to win it! I also have a wandering eye that acts up only when I'm very tired. As a person who writes pb nf & ficiton, this sounds like a perfect mentor text, too. It's so importnat to have books that celebrate kids' differences!

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  30. Wow! This is a first exposure for me. I never heard of these qualities. pretty neat!

    I'd love to have a copy of her book because I love her bio and answers to this interview and I would keep the book and buy one for my youngest grand nephew. He's pretty special but I don't think he would appreciate signed copy near as much as I would. :)

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  31. How fascinating! I would love to have a discussion now with an adult or kid who has synesthesia. Most definitely want to read the book and I am glad the editor suggested transforming the story into a picture book.

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  32. What a great subject to put into a pb. The cover is awesome and great interview, Susanna.
    I know a little boy who had surgery on his eyes for the same as you've got the other day. Poor little chap is so throng it took four of them to pin him down and he's four!

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  33. Oh, I've had several "spoiled cheesecake" teachers, that's for sure!

    This is a fascinating subject. I am heading off to B&N to get me a copy.

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  34. It really is fascinating, Mike! Enjoy the book - I know Marie will be thrilled you plan to get one!

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  35. Oh, my! I hope it all works out for him. As I said, I'm in a weird area - not the typical case of anything. I actually have close to perfect vision in my left eye - if I can just get it to focus! - but it gets tired SO FAST!

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  36. I know, wasn't that brilliant, Joanna? Because I'm sure there are lots of kids who experience this and wonder about it. I find the whole topic so interesting. I wish I could experience the world as a synesthete for a day to see what it's like!

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  37. It's a really fascinating subject, Clar. I'm interested to learn more. And yeah, these kids, have to grow up before they can truly appreciate the awesomeness of a signed book! :)

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  38. A fellow "wanderer"! I must say, I haven't met many. But you know, Lincoln suffered from that condition, so I think we're in pretty good company! :)

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  39. Thanks for coming to read and say nice things, Pam! :)

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  40. This is a fascinating subject I've learned about only recently. What a great way to help children become more accepting of the differences among people. Thanks for an interesting interview. I look forward to reading this book and sharing it with my grandchildren.

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  41. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview and like the look of the book, Rosi. It's such an interesting subject!

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  42. I want this book to read and review. Since I was a child I associated colors with numbers and it saved my math grades, but I never knew people could hear colors. Sounds outside sometimes become a rhythm for me, but I have to tune in. Synesthesia is an interesting topic. What a great post.

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  43. This book is right up your alley, Pat! I knew you would like it! So cool that you have a version of synesthesia yourself. I wish I'd had something to save my math grades :)

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  44. This is amazing, thank you Susanna and Marie! I am so happy to hear that Amy Beach inspired you. I wrote my master's thesis on her use of folk music in her compositions. She was a true genius. In her time there really wasn't room for women to be so brilliant... fortunately her husband allowed her to continue composing after their marriage. Reading about your book made my day!

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  45. I just finished Tina's interview with Marie and hurried on over to read more. I sold books for a while to school libraries and I loved Sleeping Bear Press state alphabet series. They are very well done. I haven't read G is for GRANITE: A New Hampshire Alphabet yet but will have to get my hands on it. I only learned about synesthesia today by reading about Marie. I would love to have the book to read and then donate to my library.

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  46. Thank you all so much for your comments! It's wonderful to know that the book and the subject has touched people in so many ways! Oh, and I completely forgot to tell you all this: when my extraordinary illustrator, Vanessa Brantley Newton, finished the pictures, she wrote me a short e-mail simply saying "You don't know what illustrating this book has meant to me." Turns out, Vanessa has been a synesthete al;l her life and she never knew that her gift had a name or that other people had it as well. In fact, she had never told a soul! Only by making the pictures for the words did she discover the name for her own synesthesia. How amazing and wonderful is that?? (Check out Vanessa's other books. You'll love her work! oohlaladesignstudio.blogspot.com/‎ )

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  47. I love that Marie is everywhere today! It's synesthesia overload. I had never heard of it till I read A Mango-Shaped Space, and now here it is again and agin!

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  48. I've heard of A Mango-Shaped Space but didn't know it was about synesthesia, Genevieve!

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  49. THAT is very cool! I feel like I should revise the blog post so people will be sure to see this, but so many people have already been by to read... Thank you so much for visiting with us today, Marie! It's been interesting and fun!

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  50. I think so many libraries could benefit from this book, so that kids would have the chance to learn about synesthesia. And Sleeping Bear has a lot of great books!

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  51. So glad you enjoyed it, Beverly! And I'm still marveling over the "fortunately her husband allowed her to continue composing..." sentence - I'm glad we live in a place and time when we don't need anyone's permission to write!

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  52. I don't know anyone with synesthesia but live with a man who is color deficient and admit that sometimes his difficulty leads to some interesting clothing choices! :-/ Can't wait to read The Girl Who Heard Colors.

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  53. It was nice getting to know you, Marie. It is also wonderful that you are bringing awareness to synesthesia. I've never heard of it until now. Thank you.

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  54. Oh, that's true, Keila! I hadn't thought of that. But color blindness is definitely a difference in perception, and I know a few people with it - it runs in my mom's side of the family :)

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  55. It's a great idea for a book, isn't it, Romelle? Think of all the kids who have it who will benefit from knowing they're not alone... and all the other kids who will read it and think, wow that's cool - I wish I could do that! :)

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  56. Wow, Susanna - so many offerings; so much to learn. Thanks for the wonderful interview with Marie; I always enjoy hearing how writers get their inspiration. And finding book ideas right outside the front door helps reminds us all to just open our eyes and pay attention. Hearing colors, tasting words... what an interesting world.

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  57. This_Kid_Reviews_Books_ErikFebruary 25, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    Great post! I already have this book on my to be reviewed pile, so please count me out for the contest. :) Great interview! I learned a lot. :)

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  58. So true! And a lesson for writers in using all the senses! :)

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  59. Would be interesting if there is someone out there who cannot ''see'' colors but can ''hear'' them. Or is the latter a prerequisite to the former? When considering senses, I'm not sure! Maybe Marie knows?

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  60. Hi Marie and Susanna, what a unique story. It sounds like a blessing in disguise. :-)

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  61. I know, it does, doesn't it? I think it would be pretty cool to experience the world that way!

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  62. Just think how "colorful" our writing would be. :-)

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  63. It is always fascinating to hear how an author's story developed. Thanks for sharing. I've never had an experience with synesthesia but welcomed learning about it.

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  64. Very interesting to see how the story developed. And, will need to read the book!

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  65. I loved her story on...hmmm.... I think it was Laura's blog but it might have been Tina's because now I can't remember which one was which...about how someone asked if she wrote for children while discussing the poet laureate post and she said yes because she had written something she thought was for kids even though it had never been published. It reminded me of Mike Allegra's story of saying he had a thanksgiving story when he didn't and writing one but quick which ended up getting published :) Lots of great stories out there of how people came to writing!

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  66. So you know, Cheryl, they are painless and nothing to worry about. And, yes, not too frequent either :-)

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  67. So true. It's not as frightening when you understand what's causing them. :-)

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