Writing Changes Taste in Music

When I began writing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, I had a hard time finding appropriate background music to listen to while I worked. The story takes place on a run-down farm in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, and the setting has a certain worn-in honest vibe to it, so when I went to choose some quiet heartfelt background music to inspire me while I typed, I came up almost empty handed.

Ever since I was old enough to buy my own tunes, I’ve been dedicated to just about every kind of rock music there is: hard rock, indie rock, alternative, punk rock, metal, classic rock, you name it. The problem was, none of that music really fit with the story I was working on, and that was important to me.

At the time, back in 2010 when I wrote the novel, there were exactly two bands in my entire music library that worked with the story, and they were Iron & Wine and Doug Burr. They were the oddballs in my music library that didn’t quite fit with the rest. I wrote the entire first draft of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe listening to nothing but Doug Burr, one album after the other, and then back around again all the way through, over and over. His music inspired me so much it even made its way into the story in Chapter two:

Excerpt from Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe:

When she turned to catch him staring at her, Daniel quickly found something to talk about. Picking up the blue plastic gadget that was haphazardly wired to her tape deck, he asked, “What is this thing. Is this like…an iPod or something?”

“It’s my music box,” Jo said with a grin. “Yes, it’s like an iPod, if by that you mean an MP3 player. It’s not the fancy kind you probably have back home.”

Daniel wished he had an iPod. He wished he had a cell phone too, and a newer watch that actually kept time, and maybe a warmer winter coat for those cold days in January up north. There were a lot of material things Daniel wished he had, but he didn’t dwell on that too much, like Dylan was prone to do and even beg for from time to time. “What kind of music do you listen to?” he asked, trying to operate the gadget that was the size and heft of a block of cheese. This music box of hers was ancient in technology years, and it probably belonged in a museum. He could only guess what kind of computer it would hook up too. No flat screens around here, no high speed Internet. In this year, 2007 A.D., it seemed the Larsen’s were not the type to save up their pennies for silly things such as these.

“Little bit of everything,” she replied. “I really like Doug Burr. He has the most soulful voice I’ve ever heard.”

“Don’t know him.”

Jo took the music box and punched a few buttons so Daniel could hear this soulful voice for himself. “This one’s called ‘Always Travel Light’.”

What an appropriate selection. Daniel always traveled light, from foster home to foster home, and now to Josephine’s farm in the Heartland of America. It was so easy to leave his last home, just days ago. There was nothing in that spacious brick Colonial other than a few drawers full of clothes, a couple of overdue books from the library, and an alarm clock on the shared nightstand that his brother could sleep through despite its obnoxious volume. He wouldn’t miss any of it.

Throughout the editing process, and the long & drawn out publishing process, I started picking up new bands that had similarities to Doug Burr and Iron & Wine, and now my entire taste in music has changed. There are still plenty of days when I break out the old favorites (and play them loud), but now I crave the heartfelt words and emotional music of Noah Gunderson, Damien Jurado, Ben Howard, and Josh Ritter. I never would have guessed writing a story could change my whole taste in music.  

 

This is the playlist I put together for Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. The collection of songs was a few years in the making - I made additions as I discovered new artists, and each song goes with the story in a special way. For those who’ve read the story, you’ll notice they’re in chronological order!

Spotify playlist

Hope you enjoy the book and all the music that goes with it!

When Making & Writing Collide

In May of this year, my second novel was published, titled Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. It’s a quirky coming-of-age story that takes place on a farm in Nebraska, where a pair of well-meaning but impulsive brothers and their sixteen-foot stowaway spend several weeks falling in love with their newfound freedom, the wide open land, and the book-smart redhead who lives there.

It’s no surprise both sides of my creative mind have influenced each other recently, and that the process of writing & publishing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe has lead me to create a special collection of work inspired by the story. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the new pieces I’ve been working on lately, all inspired by the book. These are available for purchase in my Etsy Shop.

My favorite series features needle felted paintings, jewelry, and laser etched wood blocks that contrast an aerial view of farmland in Nebraska with the patterned hide of a giraffe. I loved that contrast in the story - an exotic African creature living on a rural farm.

To celebrate these two new things, my book release and new handmade collection, I’m hosting a giveaway on Instagram this week. The winner will receive a signed copy of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, a $10 Amazon.com gift card, plus their choice of handmade pendant (shown below).

To enter the contest, simply follow both of my Instagram accounts @sarahmandellauthor & @onceagainsam and comment on the giveaway image (on either account) letting me know which pendant you’d choose if you’re the winner. Contest is open worldwide now through July 10. Good luck to all!

Book Release: Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe

BIG NEWS! Today is an extra special day, one that has been several years in the making. I’m celebrating the release of my new coming-of-age novel, Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. The ebook is now exclusively available on Amazon.com, and the printed edition is coming soon.  

This quirky little story of mine has been on my mind each and every day, ever since I wrote it in the summer of 2011. I was so overwhelmed with ideas at the time, I had the entire book written in only 9 days. Just for comparison, my debut novel, Celia on the Run (2011, Untreed Reads), took me nearly a year to complete, so 9 days is insane. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or focus on anything else during that time aside from these unforgettable characters and the curious events that unfolded on each page. The whole story was in my head, from opening scene to final dialog, so it was all I could do to type as fast as possible, before any detail or description evaporated. I've never experienced anything like that before! 

Although the giraffe story was finished in just over a week, thanks to the intense inspiration that temporarily hijacked my brain (and life), the following years were pretty painful. I signed the book over to a literary agent, it was placed with a publisher, and then nothing good happened after that. My first publishing experience in 2011 was a good one, but this go-round (with a different publisher) was shaping up to be the exact opposite, but I did my best to be patient. After several years passed, when the publisher finally got around to editing & proofreading the manuscript, there were quite a few red flags (enough flags to rival any parade) that lead me to the decision to terminate my contract and take matters into my own hands. The day I signed the legal documents to release my work, my blood pressure immediately returned to normal, and I instantly regained the excitement about sharing my story, something that was nearly snuffed out altogether. 

I earn a living as an indie artist & entrepreneur, so I’m not sure why I was so resistant to being an indie author. I suppose I felt like working with a publisher was “proof” that I could write a decent book, but I had a major change of heart during those frustrating years. I'm so grateful for my husband's persistent encouragement to self publish (and help doing so), as well as the advice of my friend and fellow indie author Shannon McCrimmon, (who has a new book coming out on June 1!). 

Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe is a contemporary story about the complications of love, loss, and new-found independence that will appeal to anyone who enjoys YA fiction that’s a little offbeat. This bittersweet story of two inseparable siblings, one self-sufficient redhead, and a soap-eating giraffe, is sure to make you laugh, cry, and swoon, though not necessarily in that order. 

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Synopsis:

The McElroy brothers find trouble easily. Dylan plunges headfirst into it, while Daniel cleans up behind him. That’s the way it’s always been, ever since their mother left them to be bounced around the foster system, causing trouble wherever they went. The soon-to-be euthanized giraffe they just stole from the Northside Animal Park may be their biggest predicament yet, in more ways than one, but there's no undoing what's been done.

Lost in Nebraska without a plan, clueless how to care for the ornery old beast in the back of the trailer, the well-meaning brothers stop to rest at an abandoned-looking barn. A pretty redhead with a snappy temperament and a shotgun discovers the boys and their sixteen-foot stowaway. Her name is Josephine, she lives on this farm with her father who is spoken of, but never seen, and her root cellar has more locks than a bank vault. She’s got a way with animals and plenty of secrets, not to mention the interest of two brothers who swore they’d never let some girl come between them.

The ebook is available for purchase at Amazon.com and I look forward to sharing more inspiration, excerpts, and fun facts about the novel in the future. 

#CreativeSprint: A Half-Finished Challenge that was Wholly Worthwhile

For the month of April, I signed up to take part in a daily art challenge called #CreativeSprint, organized by Another Limited Rebellion. The idea of a daily assignment delivered to my inbox, intended to spark creativity and get me to try new things, sounded like something I would certainly enjoy, but also benefit from. The challenge promised to “pump up your creative muscles” but it was very open ended, you could take as much or as little time as you wanted for each assignment, and be as literal or abstract as you desired.

The daily assignments ranged from making something that fits in the palm of your hand, to working with your non-dominant hand, to making something inspired by a song. There were days when I knew right away what I would make as soon as I read the email, and other days I felt distracted for hours because I couldn’t come up with anything. All in all, it was a great mix of idea starters that really got my mind (and hands) working. Trying new things is something I enjoy, but don’t often make time for, and #CreativeSprint motivated me to do just that.

I was unable to keep up with the daily challenges once the Mother’s Day rush hit hard - I was simultaneously featured in Etsy’s Editors Picks, the front page of Etsy, and in Woman’s Day magazine, and received over 800 orders in only 3 weeks. Oh my goodness, never experienced anything like that before - it was awesome but it nearly killed me! I was overwhelmed, sick for several days, and had zero spare time for the second half of the month, but I kept the CreativeSprint challenge emails because even though I didn’t get to participate again after the 17th of April, those emails gave me ideas to try out later on.

I almost forgot the best part / worst part: sharing whatever it was you made that day. Eek! Even the stupid stuff? Yep! Sharing my work was a little nerve wracking, because these pieces I made were just experiments and didn’t necessarily “go” with the rest of the work in my Instagram feed. They weren’t previously tested or perfectly photographed, but I enjoyed making every single one of them. I also enjoyed peeking at the #CreativeSprint hashtag at the end of the day to see what other participants did. Lots of talent and creating thinking out there!   

Click through the gallery below for a closer look at some of my favorite creations. 

 

 

Collecting Art

Vase: April Schwingle, Woven Pine Needle Basket: Clay Burnette, Bird paintings: Diane Kilgore, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle

Vase: April Schwingle, Woven Pine Needle Basket: Clay Burnette, Bird paintings: Diane Kilgore, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle

When I try to picture an art collector in my mind, I see a wealthy foreigner and his severe-looking wife strolling into a highly intimidating art gallery wearing their finest furs. They gesture towards a huge abstract painting and say “I must have dis”, then they wire the 80K from their elite offshore bank account.

I don’t know where that visual came from, if it was in some bad movie, or just floating around in my brain with other ridiculous caricature stereotypes I don’t actually believe (but keep around for my own amusement).

Felted Bunny Heads: Sarah Mandell ;-) , Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Landscape Paintings: Annie Koelle

Felted Bunny Heads: Sarah Mandell ;-) , Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Landscape Paintings: Annie Koelle

The truth is, many of us, in one way or another, are art collectors. We may not describe ourselves as such, but if you peek into our homes, you’ll get all the proof you need. Anyone can be an art collector, regardless of what it is they favor, and you don’t have to be filthy rich, follow trends, or do it all in one weekend. When it comes to collecting art, there really aren’t any rules, other than buy what you love / what’s beautiful in your eyes / what makes you feel something.

Bird Block Print: Kent Ambler, White Paper Bird: Cara Harris, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle, Felted Cactus (by me) in Wood Turned Bowl (by Matt Tindal), Mini Buzzard Painting: Canvas Dove, Mini Bunny Painting: Once Upon a Time Co., Illustration prints: Elizabeth Mayvile, Water Tower Mixed Media: Paul Flint, Paper Cat: Jordan Grace Owens, Rabbit Portrait Watercolor: Rachelle Elevingston, Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore, Abstract City Scape Painting: Jersey's Freshest.

Bird Block Print: Kent Ambler, White Paper Bird: Cara Harris, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle, Felted Cactus (by me) in Wood Turned Bowl (by Matt Tindal), Mini Buzzard Painting: Canvas Dove, Mini Bunny Painting: Once Upon a Time Co., Illustration prints: Elizabeth Mayvile, Water Tower Mixed Media: Paul Flint, Paper Cat: Jordan Grace Owens, Rabbit Portrait Watercolor: Rachelle Elevingston, Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore, Abstract City Scape Painting: Jersey's Freshest.

Art is important to me, and I want to be surrounded by it always. I first got the bug when my husband and I married in 2005, and we needed something to personalize the renter’s-white walls in our apartment. However, we didn’t have 80K sitting around in our elite offshore bank account to invest in original paintings, so we found some affordable reproductions and prints, and they made our living space “ours”.

Clay Rabbit Mask: F. Gleason, Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Hanging Terrarium: Amazon.com, Reclaimed Boards: Asheville Hardware

Clay Rabbit Mask: F. Gleason, Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Hanging Terrarium: Amazon.com, Reclaimed Boards: Asheville Hardware

Since then, we’ve found ways to buy original art (guess what, we still don’t have an 80K art budget), and have invested in many pieces we love that range from woodblock prints, to assemblages, paintings, ceramic arts, and much more. Buying smaller pieces and displaying them as collections has worked well for us, because we can always add or rearrange. Buying small because of budget reasons has actually changed my taste in art. I prefer smaller pieces right now, I gravitate towards something I can hold in my hands, and find connection with on a more personal tactile level.

Block Loom: Mary Hamby, Section of Original Wood Block: Kent Ambler, Clay Houses: Crave Studio

Block Loom: Mary Hamby, Section of Original Wood Block: Kent Ambler, Clay Houses: Crave Studio

Everyone is different, and that's what makes collecting art so fascinating. While I may prefer groupings of smaller works for my own home, I still find a single large room-dominating piece to be just as pleasing elsewhere. As we all know, art is a very subjective subject, but that makes it all the more interesting!  

Bee Block Print: Sunny Mullarkey Studio, Bird Print: Sharon Lorenz, Ceramic Bird; West Elm, Carved Pottery Vase: Unknown 

Bee Block Print: Sunny Mullarkey Studio, Bird Print: Sharon Lorenz, Ceramic Bird; West Elm, Carved Pottery Vase: Unknown 

When starting your own collection on a budget, here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Shop local: support artists in your town (student work too!) by visiting craft shows or gallery openings. Most of us probably can’t afford the work of a world famous or historically significant artist, but honestly, there’s incredible work available in your very own zip code, and at a fraction of the price.

  • Buy small: you CAN afford original art if it’s what your heart (and wallspace) desires. Look for smaller scale work that fits your budget, and build a multi-piece collection a little at a time. Things can get pretty cool after a few years of buying smaller work and creating interesting groupings, and it’s easier on the bank account doing it one piece at a time.

Mini Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore

Mini Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore

  • There’s nothing wrong with prints: I’m still a huge fan of prints, and this is by far the easiest way to bring artist’s work into your home. There are tons of amazing prints for less than $100.

  • It takes time: time to save up, time to figure out what you like, time to find that certain piece you can’t bare to leave behind.

I really enjoy curating my own collection, and rearranging what I already own. It’s truly a eureka moment when you find two pieces that don’t have much in common actually work well together!

Rabbit Print: Cory Godbey, Crowd of People Print: Janina Ellis, Mountains Print: Sara Gibson

Rabbit Print: Cory Godbey, Crowd of People Print: Janina Ellis, Mountains Print: Sara Gibson

Here’s some quick tips for curating your very own collection:

  • Group pieces by color, even if the subject matter is unrelated. Or...group by subject matter or style, even if the colors are unrelated. You’d be surprised by what “goes” together!

  • A focal point doesn’t have to be right smack in the middle. Experiment with layouts that are asymmetrical but balanced.

  • Matching frames can help tie in assorted pieces so they feel more connected, but mixing in a wide variety of different frames can add interest too. A unified collection is just as cool as an eclectic collection.

  • Before you start putting holes in your wall, make a quick to-scale sketch on graph paper, and plan where each piece might hang, then adjust as needed. Keep in mind room for growth.

  • It’s YOUR collection, so buy what you love, display it how you want, and enjoy the hell out of it! When you step back and look at your walls, and it makes you feel happy, or excited about what your next piece might be, then you’ve succeeded as a collector.