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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kaigler Festival

A few observations and photos from my weekend in Hattiesburg.

The Kaigler Book Festival is a place to make new friends
 and see old ones.


The ever-lovely and brilliant Ellen Ruffin.
Sarah Frances Hardy, who signed her new picture book next to me!

Clara Martin, there from Lemuria to chat about new books with one of my favorite authors, Deborah Wiles.

See how fabulous their lineup is?

Shannon Hitchcock and I presented a workshop: 
about writing novels using family stories, memory, and research.

Gene Yang. 
Amazing presentation about his  journey from comic book kid to artist and writer.

I was taking notes fast and furiously!

I was too mesmerized by Nikki Grimes' talk to take a single picture. But she was there. Among many others.

And the food. Oh the food.

Celebrating the Ezra Jack Keats Award
With Caramel Cake, of course.

If you have an opportunity to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi, 
just say yes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why We Write

I was reminded of this when a young man told me he'd read my new book five times. He's obviously not a kid who's never read a book on his own and that kind of reader also warms a writer's heart. 

But somebody's book made him a reader!
This truly is why we write. 
This says it all. 

What Happened to Your Book Today
by Kate Messner

Somewhere, a kid who has never read a whole book on his own
(Really. Not even one.)
picked up yours and turned a page.
And then another.
And then one more.
And it was pretty cool, turns out.

Click this link to read it all.

(And for my friends who are writing, revising, submitting. This is why you don't give up, right?)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mississippi, Here I Come!

I'm excited about my trip home to Mississippi. 
Please stop by and say hello 
if you are anywhere near me!

April 8-10. University of Southern MS, Kaigler Book Festival (I'm signing books on Friday morning via Barnes and Noble)

April 11 (3:00). Square Books Jr., Oxford MS.

April 14 (4:00) Turnrow Books, Greenwood MS.

April 16 (4:00) Lemuria Books, Jackson MS.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Love Anne Tyler's New Book

I don't want to give away too much.
Because I want all of Tyler's fans and some who may not know her yet to read A Spool of Blue Thread.
It just might be her best novel yet.

And it's surely her best cover ever. 

Instead of over-sharing, I'll give you a quote from near the beginning. It's about the family patriarch.

"According to Abby, who had known him since her girlhood, he had a thin, metallic voice and a twangy Southern accent, although he must have decided at some point that it would elevate his social standing if he pronounced his i's in the Northern way. In the middle of his country-sounding drawl, Abby said, a distinct, sharp i would poke forth here and there like a brier. She didn't sound entirely charmed by this trait."

(Thank you to my friend Marilyn who took me to her favorite "independent Bookstore by the Sea," THE BOOKMARK, where I spied a display of signed copies of A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD and of course had to have my own.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Outlining or Not


Here's the link to the WENDY MASS technique of semi-outlining!
Since a couple of writer friends have asked me about this, and the original link seems to be broken, I'll repost:

I still like this method and think it works on many levels. 
Getting unstuck.
Figuring out important scenes.
Adding details.

Here's my original, almost five-years-ago post:

Being a relatively organized person, the kind who loved to outline (and to diagram sentences, but that's a different story, for another blog post), I've struggled with the concept of writing fiction without outlining first. On the one hand, I'd like to know where I'm going with a story. On the other, well, I often don't.

This post by Neil Cross says all I wished I could have said! And it pretty much sums up the technique of kids' writer Wendy Mass. Check that link to her website for a similar way of brainstorming that ends up as a neat little outline. I adore her books. If that process works for her, it must be good.

From Neil Cross, I loved this especially:
Currently I’m about halfway up the mountain. If I crane my neck to look up, I get vertigo. If I look down, I feel quietly satisfied with the progress made.

Progress! Now back to that outline.

Related post: Every Soul a Star

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Fair Time!

Tomorrow I get to go to another BOOK FAIR. I love these days!

If you are near Dunedin (and who wouldn't want to be there on a beautiful sunny day?), stop in and say hello.

You can purchase the Scholastic Book Fair edition of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. My first book, GLORY BE, will also be available.

(Stay tuned for pictures.)

Everybody's welcome- hope to see some of you there. I'll be signing books from 1-3:00.

Curtis Fundamental Elementary
531 Beltrees St.
Dunedin, FL  34698

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Check it out!

 There is a LOT going on over at Kirby Larson's beautiful website and blog.

HERE'S the link to her blog.
I'll wait till you come back. Go ahead. Click on over.

During April, she's got a great giveaway going to celebrate strong women.


The very first on the newly-designed blog.
I am so proud.

If somehow you've missed her books, there are many. Most recently, DASH, the story of a dog and the young girl who owns him.  Set during the early years of World War II, this middle-grade novel just won the prestigious Scott O'Dell Award.

If you'd like to really get to know Kirby, here's an interview from a few years back, just as one of my favorite of Kirby's books, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, was about to be published.

It's tricky to navigate the world without friends! Any world!
But writers need advice, support, connections, which can be hard when you're sitting by yourself in a rooftop garret staring out the window all day long.
Well, scratch the garret thing.
Maybe Starbucks with a laptop.

If you're interested, I've written a few words about WRITER FRIENDS. Click on over there.

And once more- don't forget to enter Kirby's giveaway!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Just for fun.
A piece I wrote a few years ago about NOT being Irish but wishing I were.

Here it is, in the Christian Science Monitor.

And it got picked up a bunch of places, including this site that includes a video of a guy from Tennessee showing us how to make colcannon.

CLICK HERE for that link.  

Hope you remembered your GREEN today!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What I'm Doing Now: Reading Wendy Shang

Although you might assume differently from the picture, no, I'm not reading while sipping a lime-flavored drink and watching the birds.

But I am doing a spring-like thing. Reading a book about a spring sport!

I just finished Wendy Wan-Long Shang's new book-to-be. Thank you, Scholastic, for sending me the Advance Reading Copy (ARC). I adored this one!

I have added it to my list of favorite baseball books. 
Which, come to think of it, consists of TWO baseball books. 

PLUNKED (by Michael Northrop).

What I like about this new book (coming April 2015 but ready for pre-order now):

1. The subtle baseball references. Even the title!

2. Wendy managed to sneak in some timely (1972) references that kids might not totally get or even care about but I sure laughed.

Ms. Rowe is the first teacher at my school to use Ms., which , as far as I could figure, was meant to blend Miss and Mrs. What no one has been able to explain to me though is what Ms. is short for.

Oh, how I often wondered that myself, Peter!

3. There's a plot twist that surprised me. At first, I wasn't sure it was going to work. But under the masterful hands of Wendy Shang, it was perfectly executed. She convinced me and I know young readers will totally buy it. And love everything about this book, as I did.

Although baseball is a huge part of this middle-grade novel, THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW is about so much more than baseball.

Anybody have more books to add to my growing list of spring sports/ baseball books? You know, we are gearing up for spring training down here!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Welcome to the world, BLUE BIRDS.

My friend Caroline Starr Rose's beautiful new middle-grade verse novel publishes today.

Thanks to her gracious publisher, I had a pre-publication sneak peak.

I've written about it HERE. But now you can read it everywhere!
Tell your library, your independent bookstore, your teacher friends. Such a good story.

In honor of all our books going out into the world this year, I'm borrowing Caroline's quote. I love this thought via Katherine Paterson.

Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I could; now it is their turn. I have no more right to tell readers how they should respond to what I have written than they had to tell me how to write it. It’s a wonderful feeling when readers hear what I thought I was trying to say, but there is no law that they must. Frankly, it is even more thrilling for a reader to find something in my writing that I hadn’t until that moment known was there. But this happens because of who the reader is, not simply because of who I am or what I have done.

-Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

 (In honor of Caroline's new novel, I'll share bluebird art from Adolf Dehn,
"Winter Song," 
from a Christmas card I love.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Thank you, Illinois school librarians!

I'm thrilled that GLORY BE has just been named to the 2016 Illinois Readers' Choice Bluestem list.

I love the description of the award:
"Named in honor of Big Bluestem which is the state prairie grass, the award may include both timeless classics and current titles, as well as books that have appeared on Monarch and Rebecca Caudill lists."

I've visited a few schools in Illinois over the years and I've met some super media specialists and teachers. Of course, I always poke around and wishfully think about incorporating their ideas into my own school. Then I remember, Whoops, I no longer have a school or a library to call my own.

On my most recent visit, sponsored by the fabulous Anderson's Bookshop, I loved this idea from Gayl Smith at Gompert Elementary. She has a team of book wizards who write reviews and post them on the bookshelf where that book resides.

Here's one written by a third grader, which easily rivals some of the professional reviews I've read:

Glory Be is a book about a young girl named Gloriana Hemphill, who lived in the south at the time of segregation. She is used to two of everything, one for the whites and one for the blacks. Then her whole life changes when she meets a girl who moved from Ohio and doesn't follow the rules that Glory had been used to. Her name was Laura Lampert. Glory's life is whirling around her with her other friends making fun of Laura because she is from the North, her older sister has turned into a teenager and doesn't want to play with her and the pool's closing down right before her birthday to "fix some cracks". 
What is really going on? Read to find out.

Now I love that, don't you?

This is what a few other reviews look like, tacked to those bookshelves.
Those kids must feel pretty special!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Reviewing 101

It's hard to write about Book Reviewing. 

Yes, it's subjective. You can't love everything!

Yes, it's difficult deciding which books to review. Should we review books written by people we know (using know in the broadest sense)? 
Writing about reviewing books is a tricky topic.

Hats off to Virginia McGee Butler for this objective and thoughtful blogpost, her personal take on book reviews.

I've written often about the subject. Click HERE to read what I said about a terrible review of a Eudora Welty short story. Shame on you, most-likely-a-student reviewer!

Note: I wrote that in 2011. 
When it was still a bit of a novelty for students to trash books.

Writers work very hard, getting the words just right. 
If they're not right for me, they could be perfect for somebody else. 

As I said, it's tricky.

(And thank you very much, Virginia, 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Page 69 Test

I've often (always) appreciated this tricky way to decide whether I'd like to invest a whole lot of time reading a book, haven't you?

Go see if you'd like to read p. 69 in THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. 
And hear what I think about whether it's a good indication of the entire book.

I'd actually written about this test before I knew Marshall had an entire website devoted to books and their page 69s. 

(CLICK HERE to see some of my own tests.)

Wow. Laura Lippman's new book is right near mine on Marshal Zeringue's site!

Check it out and have fun reading.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Love these schools!

Still thinking about what a great visit I had to Ponte Vedra and Clay County, FL last week.
I'll share my pictures of some truly fun schools. Even when you have just a brief time to stay, it's amazing what talented and committed media specialists can make happen!

My first stop was pretty special. 

A very long time ago, I was a brand new librarian at a new school in Orange Park, Florida. The facility was state of the art. The principal was innovative. Open space, year-round school, LRC (we called the library the Learning Resource Center then!) at the middle of everything.
I had a lot to learn, but I loved working there.

 I got to sign the library's books right above the stamp I remembered using way back when!

 Going back to S. Bryan Jennings Elementary truly felt like I'd stepped back in time.
Thank you, Susan Ford-Hudson, for inviting me.

Next stop was the Charles E. Bennett Elementary School in Green Cove Springs, Florida.
When I first communicated with the media specialist there, I knew I'd like her.
Her email signature says a lot.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."  
(Frederick Douglas)

The former principal, Evelyn Chastain, came to meet me. She'd loved Glory Be so much, last year during Literacy Week, they'd decorated her door in honor of my book!

The media specialist, Janie Lloyd, arranged for her Morning News Team to interview me!
SO much fun!

THE NEXT DAY I got to spend time with some super students at PV/PV Rawlings School in Ponte Vedra, Florida. A truly memorable school visit. So many great questions from those readers!
Thank you to Kathleen Furness, one of the best principal's I've ever met-- and I've met quite a few!-- for buying books for her students, for introducing me with such aplomb, for reading my book herself! The teacher, Melanie Wall, the librarian, Vance Edeker- and all those smart readers. Wow. What a day.

I made two presentations to groups of kids who had read books on Florida's SUNSHINE STATE READERS list. Here I am sharing my inspiration for writing Glory Be.
(That's my Junk Poker box on the screen!)

The school bought several copies of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY for the classrooms, the library, AND they gave them to a few lucky winners.

Can you tell I'm delighted to chat with these bright kids?

Oh, and the moms treated Ms. Wall's class to this for lunch! 
Among other delish things.

 A baseball and a piano for Theo. Be still my heart.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Welcome, Bobbie Pyron and LUCKY STRIKE.

I was excited to get an early copy of Bobbie's newest book. I'd read (and loved) her previous novels for middle-grade readers. But THE DOGS OF WINTER was snow-filled. This one's full of Florida sunshine. I have so many questions!

Welcome, Bobbie. Since you're up the road a piece from me for another day or so, let's have a glass of sweet tea and chat a while.

Augusta: What are you doing down here anyhow? Other than escaping to Florida in the middle of the winter like a lot of us.

This is an artist-in-residence program called Escape ToCreate in Seaside, Florida. The purpose of the residency is to provide artists of all types a month of space and time to create, uninterrupted. They only take a few artists (6-9) each session. They provide you with a place to live and work (usually a lovely little cottage within an easy walk to everything, including the beach) and explore your craft. It’s all kinds of artists—film makers, composers, visual artists, musicians—not just writers. During your residency, you do a couple of projects to give back to the Seaside community. It’s just an amazing opportunity!

Augusta: A perfect spot to write from!
What made you choose Florida as a setting for LUCKY STRIKE? And how did you capture the feeling of a sleepy little Florida town when you live in anything but?

Place is really important to me when I write a book or am planning a book, and usually the muse (at the risk of sounding all woo-woo) will tell me where the story wants to take place. I’d just finished writing THE DOGS OF WINTER and sent it off to my agent when I decided to get down to work on this book I’d been thinking about for a while—the book that would become LUCKY STRIKE. THE DOGS OF WINTER was set in Russia. In my mind, I’d been “living” for months in this cold, intense place. It was such a joy to be able to live in Florida, at least in my imagination! 

It was actually quite easy for me to write about a sleepy little fishing town on the Gulf coast of Florida because that’s where I grew up! I lived mostly in the panhandle of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico in what were then small fishing towns. I know what it’s like for people to make their living from the sea and be dependent on the vagaries of nature, boom and bust cycles, and the re-routing of the interstate. I remember so well living in a little town like Paradise Beach where everybody knows everybody else’s business, where all politics are local, and during hard times folks put aside their differences and help each other out. This book is, in many ways, my personal “love letter” to all the things I loved about growing up in the panhandle: the quirky people, the fish fries and shrimp boat races, the nature all around and the magic of the sea.

Augusta:  And the book is just that- a love letter. Speaking of your loves, you always manage to work a dog into your books. I love Mayor Barney!

Bobbie: Ha, you’re right! I do always manage to work a dog or two into my books, even if it’s not technically a “dog book” like A DOG’S WAY HOME and THE DOGS OF WINTER. I love dogs so much and they are such a part of me, my life would feel empty without at least one, and so would a book I’m writing. Dogs ground me in a way humans can’t. When I was writing LUCKY STRIKE and dealing with all the complex humans and their relationships, I could almost feel that old black lab, Barney, watching with patience and doggy amusement from the sidelines. And I will tell you that having an animal as mayor of a small town is not unheard of. When my parents lived in Ramona, California the mayor was a llama and his name was (brace yourself) Tony. I’m not kidding! 

I have two dogs now, a Shetland Sheepdog named Sherlock and a coyote mix named Boo, and two cats, Mittens and Kami. All are rescues. I also do a lot of volunteer work with a couple of different animal rescue organizations in Park City and Salt Lake City.

Augusta: Aha! I detect a llama in a future story.

I love the voice of this novel. It has such a storytelling quality. I can just hear it being read out loud. How did you decide to use this omniscient narrator?

Again, at the risk of sounding obnoxiously elusive, I don’t consciously decide these things--it’s the way the voice of the story comes to me. That said, sometimes I try to go a different direction, but I always end up going back to what the story wants. For instance, when I first started writing A DOG’S WAY HOME, the voice of the story was actually two voices: the girl, Abby and the dog, Tam. The girl’s voice was in first person and the dog’s was in what I call intimate third person (or dog). After I wrote a couple of chapters, I thought it would be more acceptable (to whom, I don’t know!) to write them in consistent POVs, so I changed Abby’s to third person. Well, that just didn’t work for me at all so I went back to doing it the way the story first came to me in two different POVs.

Augusta: Sadly, I think a lot of writers have had that experience of changing tenses and voices, but I'm not naming names.
What's your writing process? Does it change with each of your books?

To some extent, the process is a little bit different for each book, but certain things remain constant. I always think about an idea for a long time before I work on it. Sometimes I’m writing one thing while another is percolating in my mind. It makes me a little difficult to live with I suspect. I used to think for me characters came first but I’m realizing usually it’s the basic plot or idea that comes first. And the idea can be sparked by so many different things: something I see or overhear someone say; something I’ve read, or even as a response to what everybody’s reading.

I never outline before I write a first draft, and I try not to edit much as I go along. Generally, I don’t show my first draft to anyone while I’m writing it unless it’s a shorter something like a picture book or short nonfiction or short story.

I think the thing I’ve learned after writing a number of books is that I don’t have a set “process” and that’s perfectly okay!

Anything else that strikes your fancy you'd like to share? No pun intended.


I often get asked by kids if this or that book of mine is based on something that really happened to me (“Did you lose your dog?”) or if the main character is really me. Of course as you know, bits of us filter through into all of what we write. That said, LUCKY STRIKE is probably the closest to me and my childhood of any of my books. There’s a lot of me—past and present—in Nate Harlow and a little bit of me in Gen. I did feel unusually unlucky as a child, I did watch shrimp boat races, I did have a beagle who was carried away in his dog house by a tornado (thankfully found unharmed two blocks away), and I did collect single, abandoned shoes. Oh, and I still love to play Goofy Golf!

Thank you for these great answers, Bobbie. It was such fun chatting.

LUCKY STRIKE debuts on February 28, in bookstores everywhere! The reviews are fabulous (see those two bright and shiny stars up there on the book?), and I agree --the story will delight young readers. Don't miss this one.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy Birthday BLOG.

 In a million years when I first started this blog, seven years ago, I couldn't have dreamed I'd have two books published by this time.

Or that I would have written all these posts, all these days.

Are blogs still being read in this new age of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.? Are posts too long? Do we have a reason for being?

If your answer is yes and you are considering starting your own blog, check out THESE IDEAS for writing your posts. 

If you are curious about how my own blog began, here's the very first post.

And this is what I was thinking about last year on my Blog Birthday. 

Thank you, friends and family, for stopping by to see what's up in my world of books et al.

Friday, February 20, 2015

And the winner is...

Leigh Anne Eck
Clark Middle School (Indiana)

Congratulations! The giveaway was a HUGE success.
With tons of entries. Wow. We're thinking this will be an annual event. Stay tuned till next February.

And thanks for all the amazing work you do.

Authors Love Teachers
We love your hard work, your enthusiasm and your dreams!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Winter so far

I promise, people of the Frozen North, 
no pictures of sunshine and sand.

I spent a longer-than-planned weekend in Chicago. My first visit to the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference as a writer!

One of my very first school visits to celebrate THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. The Gombert Elementary School, hosted by the great Anderson's Bookshop. I spoke at two schools but alas, my wonderful photographer and I mostly got pictures at one.

 Signing books. Their school mascot is the Gator. I felt right at home.


At the first school, Puffer Elementary in Downer's Grove, I noticed a wall filled with Dots!

A break between schools.
Time to rest and relax at the Naperville Public Library.
 This was at the check-out desk.

                        Something I have never seen in my many school visits in Florida.

A day at the Chicago Art Institute with my friend Patty. Fascinating library!

And then it started to snow. And snow. And snow. I was warm and cozy inside my hotel.

We ate some amazing food. A lot of amazing food.

AND I got to hear the announcements of all the ALA awards. A highlight of the weekend.

Thank you, Scholastic for inviting me to be a part of that terrific event!

PS: I love the signature on my Anderson's Book Fair contact's emails. So true, right?

"The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."  ~Dr. Seuss 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

We Love Teachers BIG Giveaway!


 Can you imagine a better Valentine's gift than a whole bunch of books? 

And what if they were brand new signed-by-the-author books just perfect for you and your students?

Here are the rules.
The giveaway is open to any teacher, any subject, media specialists, reading specialists, librarians, whatever title you possess. 
We want you and your students to have these books. Because teachers are our Rock Stars, you know.
Leave a comment to my blog.
Or tweet, using #MGAuthorsLoveTeachers. You must use that hashtag or we won't know you're out there!

You may also stop by Lynda Mullaly Hunt's blog and leave your comment there:

And some day soon, after February 19 to be exact, your mailbox will begin to fill with these beautiful books.

If you're a teacher of older kids, enter the Great YA Giveaway by clicking over to THIS BLOG, or by tweeting #YAAuthorsLoveTeachers.

Good luck and comment/ tweet soon! 


Rules: ***Giveaway ends on Wednesday, February 18th at 11:59 PM. Winner will be announced on the 19th.

1) This is to show our appreciation for teachers and librarians, specifically. Therefore, the winner must have a school mailing address and be presently employed at that school. (Sorry–no international winners this time.)

***2) Please remember this giveaway is all about appreciation. We know that teachers do not get the appreciation they deserve. This giveaway is a reminder that WE appreciate you. Yes—we write the books, but YOU get the books into the hands of our readers. For that we are most thankful.

THANK YOU for visiting our giveaway!