Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between them.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Things I Love

Yes, I know, all that hoopla about creative people working in messy spaces. Those researchers obviously didn't consult anyone who'd wanted to be a librarian since she was in fifth grade.

We recently closed up our place in New Jersey. Packed a few boxes that I couldn't live without. Offloaded some stuff. 
But I don't work well in messes. So I'm delighted to have unpacked THE LAST BOX. And even more delighted with my beautiful new bulletin board. 
Full of things I love (Thanks, Jay!).

You can't read this in the photo, but there's a little corner, bottom left, full of writing advice-- and life advice!-- mostly scribbled while talking to my brilliant editor over these past almost six years we've been together.

Usually we're talking so fast and I'm writing editorial notes and trying to answer thoughtfully and wisely. But even over lunch, she says smart things I want to remember. 

Here are a few from my beautiful blue bulletin board. 
From Andrea and other sage writers and editors.

What's the page turn?
Create oh-my-gosh moments.

I call that the "glittery hand of God."
(from the very first time my new editor and I talked on the phone and I told her about our connections)

Read each chapter and look for small astonishments. (Joyce Sweeney workshop)

You can never go home again, but the truth is you never leave home, so it's all right. 
 (Maya Angelou)

If anybody cares, also pictured is a card from the Rose Window at the National Cathedral sent by a friend, after my daughter's wedding. A photo my brother book of our daddy's fishing camp on Lake Beulah, MS. The Blue Angels. The Eiffel Tower. A beautiful postcard from the Rothko exhibit in Houston (thanks, Kirby). My 2016 Quaker Motto Calendar. A photo from my 4th birthday...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Historical Fiction...

Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.


 (My thought for the day...)

Maybe writing with quill and ink will speed things along?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Prehistoric Googling

I love this picture. And that's what the person who shared it called it: Prehistoric Googling.

In the Olden Days, before computers, we librarians answered patrons' reference questions from books, The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, microfiche/form, the many index volumes of the New York Times, numerous encyclopedias-- you name it. But it always in a book or on microfilm. 
Google hadn't been invented.

My favorite card catalog story is about a cataloger I worked with during my early career, a five-year stint at a public library. 
That's what my friend did and that's what she liked: cataloging books.
If there was absolutely no one else available, occasionally, she'd be called to work the Reference Desk.

When she needed to file cards at the big wooden catalog in the middle of the library, she would perch her handbag across her arm and stare intently at the cards. As if she were just another patron, checking for a book. 
She was brilliant, but she did not want to be bothered answering some pesky reference question.

Those were the days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So B. It

Having not read this book in at least ten years, I checked it out of the library, thinking I'd re-read it quickly.

Boy was I wrong.

There was just too much to take in. 
Too many sentences to linger over.

It's always been a favorite. I'm a Sarah Weeks fan. Love her newer books, too. We met last winter at the American Library Association conference and later connected over Authors Readers Theater. (She's a whiz!)

But So B. It is truly a gift to readers.

A few things I'd forgotten I love:

1. The chapter titles are one word long. Perfect.
2. The complicated young narrator, Heidi. I totally believed she would get on that bus.
3. The language. Just one of many examples: "While Mama finished napping, I let myself float suspended like a lily pad in my private little pool of hope."

Recently I heard a writer remark that she thinks voice really means the author's voice. I'm not sure I agree. Each of Sarah's books is different, special in its own way, and not necessarily this author's own voice.

So B. It- What a story, perfectly woven.

This is Sarah's newest book, coming soon. Amazing cover image, no?
 (I borrowed  the ARC's photo from Brenda Kahn. Thanks, Brenda!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hooray for Book Fairs!

I am a huge fan of a good Book Fair. 
For kids have no access to a real bookstore with books to touch and smell and share with friends and parents and little brothers and sisters, what could be more fun?

In fact, if invited to a Fair that's in my comfort zone (an easy drive from my house), I often turn up. Just to see all the books and hear what the kids are saying.

I also love it when my librarian friends send photos of their students enjoying my own book. 

So thank you very much, my North Carolina librarian buddy, Crystal Joyce, for these great photos.

I'll be smiling the rest of the week.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

I think all there is to say about me and Elvis has been said. By me.

You can read a little of it, or a lot. 
Or move on to the next blog you're reading.


HERE it is.

The closest I've gotten to The King lately was at a memorable school visit. Pelahatchie, Mississippi is a small country town near Jackson.  
Here I am with their really super former librarian, Brenda Black. 
And Elvis, of course.

(Yes, that's a jukebox behind me and a neat clock on the wall. Did I say what a great little library this was?)

If you're really a fan, to celebrate Elvis's birthday, you could attend the celebrations going on at GRACELAND right now.

If you're interested in hearing more about my book GLORY BE, and the Elvis connection, here's a blast from the past blog interview. 

Speaking of Author Visits, here are some truly remarkable ones, via Publisher's Weekly.
 (School Visit ideas, CLICK HERE.)

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Elvis! 
I think I'll go have a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ruby Lee & Me

I'm so proud of fellow Scholastic author, Tampa and N.C. resident Shannon Hitchcock's new book.

Isn't this cover the greatest?

My favorite character might be Granny. Not a crotchety old lady, but a resourceful, warm grandmother who seems to anticipate what Sarah needs. 

One of the many things that struck me when I first read this book was how well it will fit into a classroom. It's an easy read, just enough excitement, excellent characterization. 

Reading it aloud is going to provoke a lot of thoughtful discussions.

Happy Book Birthday, Shannon and Ruby Lee & Me!

Excerpts from the book's excellent reviews:

* "A heartening and important offering for younger readers." -- Booklist, starred review
From School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—After a tragic accident leaves her younger sister Robin hospitalized, 12-year-old Sarah must move in with her grandparents. Miss Irene is Granny's neighbor and friend, and her granddaughter Ruby Lee has been Sarah's best friend since she can remember. The trouble is, Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black—and it's 1969 in North Carolina. The local school will be integrated this year, and the first black teacher has been hired. Tension is high in the tiny town of Shady Creek. Forced to leave her home and start over on her grandparents' farm, Sarah must come to grips with her guilt about her sister, her anger and confusion about Ruby Lee, and the uncertainty of relationships among whites and blacks in the rural South. Balancing the heavier topics are home-style recipes, strong storytelling, and Southern charm, which will engage younger middle grade readers. The characters are well developed and the historical setting realistic. VERDICT Tenderly told, this appealing story explores racial tensions during a key moment of the civil rights movement.—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Crafty Blogs

Make that crafty WRITING blogs, of course.

When I first started to write, I followed my friend Barbara O'Connor's WRITING TIP TUESDAY posts like a child with Christmas candy. Now I love seeing the Writing Links shared by Caroline Starr Rose.
I learn a lot from fellow writers. 
Thanks, Dorian Cirrone, and so many others.  
What fun, unwrapping each one and tasting it. Putting it back if it isn't right. Saving a tip for later. Does it work for me? Can I apply this to what I need right this minute in my novel?

I've shared Writing Tips here on this blog, and here's another:

Does the story suffer from too much reality?  Sol Stein said a reader is “primarily seeking an experience different from and greater than his or her everyday experience in life.”  Erica Jong said a novel “must make my so-called real world seem flimsy.”  And here is Kurt Vonnegut: “I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.’’
A novel is an amplification of real life.  It is more exciting, more fun, more romantic, more glamorous, and more dangerous.  It is wittier, braver, courser, faster and bigger.  A novel has more smell, more taste, and more sound.  Friendships are closer, and enemies are crueler.  Children are more mature, and old people more profound.  Dogs don’t just lie around, and cats have a purpose.  Everything is more.
We all live real lives, and so we don’t want to read about real lives as our entertainment.  Ramp up the story.

You can read the entire, excellent article HERE.

Off to ramp up a story. Or dream up a story.
The New Year will be here soon. Are you writing something new to celebrate?

(Lots of great images HERE!)

Monday, December 21, 2015

It's Monday

What am I reading?

Be still my heart.

First of all, the horse.

And this boy, Joseph. A boy and a horse, how can I not love this book?

And his friend, a Chinese boy. And the setting, the West, Washington state, the late 1800s.

Okay, I'm only halfway through the ARC of this middle-grade novel, but already I'm thinking of the kids who are in for such a treat. 

A page-turning adventure, a friendship story. It's also a "western"- in the old-fashioned sense. So there's a gun and fights and the occasional swear word. But they all fit perfectly with the story. And Joseph has such a big heart and strong moral values.

Coming January 2016.  (Thanks, Scholastic, for the review copy.)

Hey, teachers and librarians- It must be holiday break time- Book Time!
What are you reading this Monday?
A Monday bonus. 
Click HERE for an interview with librarian/ author Dan Gemeinhart.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thank you, Wauchula Elementary School!

I had so many great school visits this year. Thank you to all the librarians and teachers who invited me, who read my books aloud, who inspired such great discussions and projects.

My last school visit of 2015 was memorable. It was the first time I'd spoken to so many students who'd all read THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

From the drive across the state through Florida's strawberry and citrus fields, I made my way to the little town with a lot of enthusiastic readers, Wauchula, Florida. Enthusiastic readers, great teachers, and one really fantastic librarian.

Here's my day, in pictures.

Even before I arrived, the kids had been reading, thinking, imagining and dreaming.

I loved these giant keyboards that filled the walls!

Each student wrote a dream on a key.
Dreaming big, just like Theo.

In the run-up to my visit, not only had the students and their teachers read my book, Mary Idsardi, super librarian, produced a piano recital!

Check out "Theo's" baseball bat.

Doesn't he look just like the Book Fair/ club edition's fabulous cover?

Now this was no ordinary recital.

The program.

The playlist. Be still my heart.

A Vietnam veteran spoke to the classes. 
And they raised money for the Wounded Warriors.

Truly a special day. Thanks, Wauchula Elementary!

 (The bookshelves, right next to me.)

(I love that t-shirt.)

All the way home, I thought about those kids, 
my home state, Theo and Miss Sister. 
About how difficult and challenging it is to move to a new place.
(My car's GPS, guiding me all the way, 
so I could think about something other than what road to take...)

Writers appreciate how hard it is to organize a school visit so well. 
And how important it is. 

We really and truly appreciate all the work that goes into making these days special for your students. 

Have a great holiday break, librarian and teacher friends!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gifts for Writers

Taking a lead from my food blogger friend who just shared Gifts for Cooks, I'm offering ideas for gifts writers might appreciate.

How about offering to address the Christmas cards? Or even stand in line to mail them. Now that's what I call the Gift of Time!

Office supplies might be very personal. I mean it! We have certain pens, notebooks, desk goodies we love. A gift  certificate to The Container Store is high on my own list. 
 Or check out THIS cool, colorful spot. POPPIN has all sorts of desk supplies, notebooks, you name it.

(I own two of these, just in case)

Speaking of the gift of time, consider a gift to a writing retreat! Wrapped up under the tree, this could make the writer in your circle really really happy. I'm partial to HIGHLIGHTS but there are so many. Brand new workshops are listed on that site, linked.

If your writer friend isn't a traveler or a mixer, find a nice little B&B nearby and send her off for a weekend.

If you're feeling very generous and your budget is unlimited, check with your writer friend or family to see if they'd like a consultation from a freelance editor. There are many and their services vary. Don't do this without asking! Some writers prefer going it on their own. But here are a few friends have used and recommend.

Joyce Sweeney
Leslie Guccione
Elizabeth Law
Carolyn Coman
Lorin Oberweger
Lisa Maxwell

Perhaps some of you reading this could add a name or two?
Prices vary. Abilities and interests and genres and experience vary also. Check the websites and ask around. But this might be something worth requesting. After all, this is the season for gift-giving, right? 

Last, but certainly not least. Give books. Give books in your favorite writers' names to schools and other charities.  (I listed a few HERE, but everybody knows somebody or someplace that deserves a few good books.) 

Buy your friend's book and donate it. Gift wrap it for your favorite person! Your author friends will thank you.

(Thanks, Eileen!)

Happy holidays, one and all. May you be surrounded by good friends, happy family, and most excellent words.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Very Own Library

"My Very Own Library and Scholastic Book Fairs give 250,000 books to children in need..."
(Scholastic blogpost)

There are so many ways to get books into the hands of young readers. Readers who may not have their own books.
My friend Donna Gephart supports a great charity, Bess the Book.
I'm proud to have been a part of My Very Own Library, visiting schools in Newark NJ.

You can read about the schools who hosted me, HERE and HERE.

One of my all-time favorite photos, illustrating my respect for busy urban librarians with limited funds but great enthusiasm. 

(The entrance to the auditorium where I was speaking.)

Thanks, Scholastic and My Very Own Library, for the amazing ways you get books into kids' hands.  And if you're wondering whether books really make a difference, read all about it, HERE.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Elizabeth Strout

Loved Olive Kitteridge. The book and the TV series.
Just finished Abide With Me.
I am now reading The Burgess Boys

Perfect airplane, packing, distracting novels for my life right now.

Here's what Strout says in her Reader's Guide to the Trade Paperback edition of Abide With Me.  Something to remember, for sure.

"A book, once finished, belongs to the reader, and each reader will bring to it his or her own life's experiences... it should be a different book for each person who reads it."

And this.

"Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn't know we knew. We can wonder for a moment if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all."

 Perfect, right? 

And guess what- she has a new book, coming January, 2016. Can't wait!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I am stuck without my own Photo File. On a computer I don't use often. Desperately needing a photo.

I google my own books, hoping what I need will pop up.

Voila! Thanks to the blog MATH IS ELEMENTARY, I found a great photo of the cover image of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY's Book Fair version.

I actually like this cover a lot. Though, I know, it confuses some young readers. I had a boy at a Book Fair tell me "I've read both your books! In one day!"  He held the hardcover and the bookfair books. I assured him the words inside were all the same. He seemed happy to have read the book twice.

As long as I was on a roll, I searched for the other book jacket. And this image from what The Chicago Tribune calls "an aspiring book critic" has made me smile.

My day is made! Success!-  and lots of smiling going on here.

Aren't kids the greatest? Bloggers, too. Thank you, one and all.

Friday, November 13, 2015


My week was filled with bright kids asking great questions.
Four Skype sessions later, I'm still pondering what they said about THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.
For example:
Are any of your characters based on real people or named after real people? How do you figure out what a character would say?

What does "Oh my stars!" mean? Are you from the south, or something?
(This always cracks me up because it never occurs to me that kids don't know some of the totally normal sounding things I say/write...)

And mixed together with all the writing questions I regularly get asked (and never mind answering) was a new one:

"Do you know any other authors and what do you talk about when you get together?"
(Totally not answering this one. My lips are sealed.

Another question made me wonder. This is only the second time it's been asked, and both times I could tell the student had thought hard about it. It wasn't one of those "How much money do you make?" off-the-cuff questions that teachers and librarians caution kids not to ask.
(But they sometimes do.)

This young reader asked why Theo, a boy, was friends with Anabel, a girl, and what made me write about friendship and friends and especially boys and girls being friends. 

I have the answer to that. Or at least an answer.
One is because purely from a writing sense, it's nice to work in both girls and boys in a novel, especially those who don't exactly fit the mold. Theo plays the piano AND baseball. His new friend Anabel wants no part of her dance class but is possibly a sports fanatic. 

In THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, Theo was adrift. He was someplace he'd never been before. He felt like an outsider. Every single time I talk about my new book and ask students what helps you fit in when you are brand new to a place, they know the answer: Find a friend.

Been there, done that, right? Haven't we all felt like we didn't know the ropes until we had one person to show us the way?

I grew up in the kind of small southern town where everybody knew each other. I had friends whose grandparents were my own grandparents' friends. That's me in the corsage and my best friend since (before!) birth next to me. We were college roommates, bridesmaids for each other, and we're still best of friends. But I've also been that newcomer, so I know how it feels not to fit in. 

(In fact, I still know every person in this photo, including the too-cool-for-school boy on the trike)

A friend, yes. That's what a good book can be. But also a way to figure out how to make a friend. How to be a friend.  

Frankie and Glory? Anabel and Theo? And in my forthcoming book, there's a girl who befriends a boy, and the two attempt to figure out the world together.

Makes perfect sense to me.

(Here's a link to a blogpost by one of the terrific librarians who invited me into her class via Skype)

And one more photo. 

My friend and I still talk a lot about our shoes.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Top Ten

(Actually Fourteen) Things I just this minute learned about blogging.
From my writer friend Irene Latham.

Her anniversary blogpost is a MUST READ.   (click there!)

You know when somebody announces "I couldn't have said it better myself" and then goes on to attempt to to it anyhow? I'm not doing that.

I truly can't think of another thing I could add to her list of
14 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Blogging. (Go ahead, click her link!)

Except Happy Blog-i-versary, Irene.

Since Irene knows pictures are worth a thousand words...

And please,

Friday, November 6, 2015


Thank you, super librarian Dorcas Hand, and also to my friend and former teaching colleague Patti Kiley for arranging such a fun visit with Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston.

I was there for their amazing annual BOOK FAIR, with two other authors, Linda Leblanc and Keith Graves. That's a whole lot of organizing and arranging and book sharing going on. Hats off, Dorcas!

Did I mention the FOOD? Which I'm sorry to say, I didn't document nearly enough! (I'm usually much better with sharing food pictures, and we did eat well.)

My two days, in pictures. Wish I'd taken more!

A Scholastic Book Fair like no other.

Student art work, everywhere I looked.

 It's such fun seeing special books and thinking about their authors!

The parent volunteers worked so hard to make that space eye-catching. In one corner was a reading nook. Sorry I didn't capture in a photo. Every time I turned around, I saw something else I loved!


Forgive me for a little librarian nostalgia (for me). 
I got to help move books on a book cart. Hadn't done that in a while, though it used to be an everyday occurrence!

(There was a special table for books to donate to the libraries. Great idea!)

 Always happy to sign books...

Dinner out with teachers at PICOS-- 
Delicious! And so many connections made around this table!  


I haven't spent a lot of time in Houston. It was very special to connect with old friends. Especially friends who'll take me to see the most fantastic Mark Rothko exhibit at their Museum of Fine Arts.

Thanks, Bobby and Jeannie Moon!

And a trip to Houston wouldn't be complete without a stop at one of my all-time favorite bookstores, just to say hello and check out funny author messages covering their walls! Thanks, Blue Willow Bookshop, for inviting me. Or letting me invite myself. I signed a few books and caught up with old friends.

I'm already excited about a possible trip to San Antonio in the fall. Texas teachers and librarians truly rock!

(only in Texas, right?)