Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Slow Writing.

Is it like Slow Cooking? 

Is it something we've given up on in our hurry to get things on paper?

CLICK HERE for a very interesting blogpost from Kristi Holl.

I'm also following Linda Urban's blog and her posts on writing every day. 
For a few minutes. 

I got a late start, so I'll go a little beyond the allotted time. But today was Linda's last day of writing for just 15 minutes.  

I highly recommend this if you're busy or have no clue what to write about.
So much to do, writing-wise, when you're not actually writing. If you know what I mean. 

On to a new year! Lots to do in January. But 15 minutes, early in the morning, really isn't that difficult. We can do this, people.


Friday, December 26, 2014

A Thing or Two I Love

This is the time to make vows for next year, to write thank-you notes, to appreciate so much in our rich lives.

Inspired by an excellent piece on "how to support an author's new book," it occurred to me that having a book appear around the hectic holidays has both challenges and advantages. 

So I want to send a special thank you to the teachers who've had time not only to read THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY during your busy, busy holiday break, but also to share that you've read it and even to beautifully and thoughtfully recommend it to others.

Like Holly:
"This is a story of family, home, and identity - all of which the characters need to define for themselves. Glory Be was a big hit in my classroom, and The Way to Stay in Destiny is destined to be, also, in 2015!"

And Terry:
"...the way that music plays a role has this musician singing its praises."

Enjoy the rest of your break, teacher and librarian friends. Here's hoping it's filled with good books, long walks, warm fires, and true friends. 

(Oh, and if you happen to sneak over to Goodreads this week, Scholastic is giving away Advanced Reader Copies of my book. Drawing ends on December 31st. )

And if you live in Florida or other warm climes, here's that fire to warm you as you read your favorite book!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

This Post was Inspired by Letters

Or, truthfully, by my friend and fellow debutante (our first novels came out the same year) Caroline Starr Rose's BLOG POST: Do You Write Fan Mail?

I haven't written many letters to authors lately. In the era of Facebook and email, most of the authors I know receive cyber greetings from their fans.

But today is a letter-writing kind of day and I'm actually writing a couple to those who've been steady rocks by my side as I've navigated the past few years of publishing.

(I certainly have enough note cards to write everybody I've ever known!)

I'll write my very own editor, also an author, whose book THE RED PENCIL I'm reading right now. She hears from me a lot. But I've never written to her about one of her own books. And I love this one.

Ann Martin's RAIN REIGN is going under a special someone's Christmas tree. I'd love her to know how much this book will mean when that young reader and I talk about it.

I'm going to quote from Caroline's blog, linked in the first sentence, because she says it so well:

“I am a part of everything I’ve read” Theodore Roosevelt said. It’s true. And I am so very grateful to the authors who have made my life richer, fuller, deeper through the books they’ve created.

You might also like this about Flannery O'Connor's letters.

Or perhaps

And just for fun: Typing Skills!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Always Quotable

Katherine Paterson:

"I think you tell your story and then the reader gets to decide what he or she will learn from your story. And if they don't want to learn anything from it, that's their choice."

- Katherine Paterson
from an interview with NPR

(via Jan Fields' interesting newsletter this week)

I often post quotes from Katherine Paterson. CLICK HERE for a link to one I particularly like. Or type her name into my search box for even more inspiration.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dunedin Public Library

More to come, closer to the date.

But I must share my cool new button!

(Thanks, Eileen. You are the best.)

My very first "Destiny" event will be on January 22, Thursday, at 4:00,
 at the delightful DUNEDIN PUBLIC LIBRARY

Games! Refreshments! Maybe even music. Bring the family.
Barnes and Noble will have books for sale- hot off the press!

I hope to see some of my Tampa Bay friends and family there to celebrate my next book. Thank you to the amazing librarians for agreeing to host.

(Such a neat little town. Plus, my favorite ice cream store in the universe. Can't wait.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

And the winner is...

Who left a comment on the blog.
(Craig, please send your mailing address ASAP via my website or Facebook or leave it in a comment, if you're so inclined.)

PS If I get more ARCs, I'll be happy to share with more of you who commented.

In January THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY will be available as an actual book.
You can pre-order now, via the usual suspects.

Or tell your wonderful independent bookstore to order it.

Or, if you are a teacher or a librarian, check the Scholastic Teacher Store.

And rumor has it, the new book will be in your wonderful Scholastic Book Fair this spring! Yay. So excited.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Books to Share

Just for fun.
And in the spirit of holiday giving.

Who'd like a signed Advanced Reader Copy of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY? 

And as a little bonus (And because the Scholastic Store had such a great sale and I needed one extra to get free shipping that I ordered my own book), I'm throwing in an autographed hardback of GLORY BE. 

(The paperback as well as the audio will be available in January, but I still love hardback books for gifts.)

So this is my gift to one commenter/ replier. 
Here or on Facebook or Twitter.

This will be a quick one. 

Comment before 9 AM tomorrow (December 12) when I hope to make my last pilgrimage to the p.o.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Shopping

 It's that time of year again. 

May I suggest the perfect holiday gift for all the kids on your list? 
A book signed by the author.

My very first signed book came from Frances Parkinson Keyes, given to me when my parents returned from a trip to New Orleans where she was signing Once On Esplanade.
(Whoa. Worth $75? I'd better dig that one off the bookshelf!)

Some clever writers even put a special note in their signatures.

I found a book by fellow Tampa Bay writer, Fred Koehler at Inkwood Books and he added a personal note. 

Authors love to sign at their book events. In fact, if you know where an author lives, give a nearby bookstore a call. They might just have them already signed, waiting for you.

Check this list from Square Books in Oxford
It could make a book collector out of you!

Since I LOVE Greg Neri's new Johnny Cash biography, I bought a couple. 
For gifts, of course.

These won't be going anywhere but my own bookshelves. But I'm sure that if you buy a book by either Caroline Starr Rose or Nancy Cavanaugh and email them via their contact info on their website that you'd like a bookmark signed or a bookplate, they'd be happy to send it.

I do it all the time for my own book! 
And I bet lots of other writers would love to make your gift very personal.

For holiday giving or if there's a new baby gift you need, my friend Aimee Reid has offered to send you a signed bookplate for her new picture book, Mama's Day With Little Gray. Check out the link to request a bookplate here:

So make that gift special this year. There's still time if you hurry on over to the authors' websites, Facebook pages, etc.  Happy Shopping to All!

(A few words about autographed books in general can be found HERE.  Kind of reminds me of the 4th grade boy at a school I visited last year who told me all he wanted was my signature. Not his name. He planned to sell it on Ebay soon... Wonder how that worked out for him.)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Writers are such Generous Beings!

I love this idea so much.

If I were any good at critiquing, I'd keep it going and do the same thing LYNDA MULLALY HUNT is doing.

CLICK RIGHT HERE for her offer of a free critique. 
  I know it will be amazing!

I really loved her first book, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS.

I cannot wait to read FISH IN A TREE.

And I totally could have written every single word she says about finding an agent and being pushed along by our Tribes!

Way to go, Lynda. And thanks in advance for such a generous offer.
Somebody is really going to be happy about this.

(Hurry up and enter! Drawing is December 10th. )

Friday, December 5, 2014

Narrative Voice

Did you miss the recent dust-up about First Person Present?

My favorite response came from Kate Messner. No surprises there. She always manages to say the right thing in a way that's easily understood.

Click over to her blog where you'll find her very measured reply to why First Person Present often is the right choice.

Perhaps I'm not the best person to respond to the criticism. Although I naturally lean toward past-tense-whatever-person, I think first person present works just fine if the story calls for it. As does whatever tense and voice fits our stories and our characters.

My new book is written in first person present, just because that seemed to work best for telling the story. 

Speaking from recent experience, I've written an entire draft of a manuscript in one tense, found it didn't work and changed it.

That's called Revision with a capital R, people! Whatever works, whatever sounds right, whatever fits. There is no rule when it comes to what is best for a particular writer or a certain character.

If you really want to get your dander up, read the original post, with all its comments, HERE. 

Although I don't really <LOVE> present tense, to each his own. 
Whatever works. Go for it.

“I love you present tense. It's okay, Gus. It's okay. It is. It's okay, you hear me? Okay, okay.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

Three Times Lucky was a fun read, a Newbery Honor book in fact, full of great characters.

The sequel-- or perhaps companion is a better fit--THE GHOSTS OF TUPELO LANDING, features the same folks.

 Moses LoBeau is a champion of one-liners.
Like this:

"Few people know it, but waitressing is like deep cover--with tips."

Describing a character, upon his entrance:
"From a distance, I didn't like him. Up close, I liked him less."

And strong verbs, like these:

We slipped into the living room, Queen Elizabeth ticking along behind, and settled on Miss Lana's old curlicue settee.

Also in the good verb list: blasted off and shoved.
Queen Elizabeth's the dog. That's another thing to love about this middle-grade novel. The character names.

And how's this for showing a lot about someone without telling much:
"I crossed to my Salvation Army desk and opened my top drawer. It sticks."

Writers could learn a lot from Sheila Turnage. Check out her website. She might even tell you where you can buy a signed copy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

NCTE- wow...

I'm just back from my very first National Council of Teachers of English conference.

Speechless at all the amazing book love floating through that convention center.

I shared a panel with the fabulous, famous, funny


Here's a link to all of our PowerPoint presentations:

(See the little arrows on the bottom left? Just click through to see all the slides. They may not make a lot of sense without the fabulous presenters standing in front of you, but you'll get a sense of what we shared.)

Here we are! Scary Book Nerds!

I also got to talk about my Book-To-Be, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, at Scholastic's amazing brunch. Sharing the stage with Jennifer Nielsen and Christopher Paul Curtis, while we acted our pants off.

More to come as I wade through the weekend. 

Truly, it was an honor to meet so many remarkable, hard-working, smart teachers with such brilliant ideas. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kate Atkinson

I'm a fan.
As you can see from my EARLIER POSTS HERE and HERE.

But I didn't love the recent Life After Life.

A friend who reads a lot described it as an Adult Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tale. 
Remember those? Read to a certain page, answer a question, choose to go to one page or another.

That was kind of how we both felt about LIFE AFTER LIFE.

Now guess what. Her next book is to be a "companion" to that one.

"In A God in Ruins, Kate will focus on Teddy, would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father, as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

Kate's publisher said, 'A God in Ruins is a masterful companion to Life After Life, and will prove once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.'" 

The image on the right is the U.S. cover.

Read all about it HERE,  pre-order, tell your bookstores it's coming.

I will read it and hope it's more <Brodie> than Choosing and Jumping Around
Or maybe I'll wait till she returns to the mysteries I loved.

Even loved the Masterpiece Mystery adaptation of her Jackson Brodie series.
(Though not as much as the books. Naturally.)

If you've missed this author, how about this for a strong recommendation?

Here's what another favorite crime writer, Harlan Coban, has to say:
Kate Atkinson is an absolute must-read. I love everything she writes.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And the WINNER is...

So I thought it would be fun to let Rocky the Rockstar choose a winner for my book's ARC (Advanced Reader Copy).

He seemed less than interested at first.

With a little encouragement, he finally put his paw on a winner!

I think BRENDA of ProseandKahn was the first entry. Or one of the earliest. 
So congrats to you and thanks for reading.

I'm saving the names, however. I <think> I may be getting more than one "extra" ARC. If so, I'll send a few more out. Stay tuned!

I do love sharing.
Thanks so much for your interest in THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thank you, Scholastic!

I totally love my editor, my publisher, and all the amazing people who are bringing this book into the world.

Check out Scholastic's new online preview HERE

Editor Andrea Pinkney introducing THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, mid-way through, melted my heart. She and my book are in the Middle Grade section, along with a lot of other brand new books I can't wait to read.

(Confession: Had to fast-forward through the part about THE HONEST TRUTH. A debut novel I'm just beginning and can't put down.)

Here's the link right to the Middle Grade New Books section:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More ARCs!

The lovely people at Scholastic just told me they are sending me a few more ARCs. (Advance Reader Copies/ Uncorrected Proofs/ Galleys- many names but basically it's my second book! Yay!)

I would love to share.

If you'd like one, leave me a comment on the blog.
Or on Facebook. 
Or Retweet this link.

I'll pick somebody by Sunday. 
Or maybe a couple of somebodies.

(I bet Rocky the Rockstar bassett will help me choose.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Don't Miss This Blog

Are you following Dorian Cirrone's blog?

If not, you should be. 
Amazing writing craft tips.

Great recent post, especially the paragraph about NAMES. (see link below)

I love finding the perfect name for a troublesome character. It's crucial that we nail our characters' names, don't you think? 

A few currently under consideration for my latest effort.

 (One of these days, I WILL find a use for Taxi Jones.)

Check out what Dorian says about the names and what they say about their characters in Liar & Spy.  
I was always intrigued by "Georges." I mean, who uses that for a kid's name in a book? A terrifically talented writer, that's who. 

Here's the link:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More on Characters

As a rule, I'm not a fan of those character study things. But I am a fan of having at least a vague idea of what you're going to be writing before you start writing. 

Note, I said VAGUE
My characters seem to develop as I write.
Other writers may know it all before they put pen to paper. I say, whatever works.


My Highlights buddy Rosi Hollinbeck has a really good blog. She finds super stuff to share. And she just shared THIS, via Kathy Temean, a kind of fun way to look at/for a new character.

There are 90 questions. 
I figure if I dream up ten of them, I'm good...

  1. Any negative forces around your character?
  2. Does your character have anyone to confide in?
  3. Is your character afraid of anyone? Or anything?
  4. What is his/ her biggest fear?
  5. Would you say your character is selfish?
  6. What annoys him?
  7. Is she a bully?
  8. What makes him laugh?
  9. How old is your character?
  10. What does your character look like?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nerdy Books: Top Ten

Do you follow the folks at the Nerdy Book Club?
They welcome bloggers, teachers, writers, librarians.
Their posts are about everything and anything bookish.

I'm especially drawn to their Top Ten lists.

Top Ten Reasons to Marry a Nerdy Book Club Member.
Top Ten Book Characters Who Would Be Awesome Friends
Top Ten Ways to Research.

See what I mean?

Here's one I just read:

This is my favorite:

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler. I’d rather discuss one book with a student for twenty minutes than listen to a student rattle off a list of all the books they’ve read.

I'll be sharing the room with a whole bunch of Nerdy Book People at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in a couple of weeks. Can't wait.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I'm having a Johnny Cash kind of a day...

Yesterday's Tampa Bay SCBWI event was great fun. But I've been thinking about Johnny Cash since I left that library where Shannon Hitchcock and I presented our workshop.

On the way home? Three Cash songs on the radio.

At the meeting? I shared this terrific inspiration, via Walk the Line:
Just go on over there and read it.
It's that good.

I can't wait to buy GREG NERI'S brand new picture book
He and Madeleine Kuderick are presenting at Inkwood Books on November 18.
But I've read the galleys. I loved it. 

(Shh. Don't tell. But for sure, a few people will be getting copies from me.
Check out my niece's dogs, dressed for a fancy dog walk. 
Guess what their names are? June and Cash.)

My personal connection to Johnny Cash was hearing him play in Starkville, MS, the night he was arrested, as it turned out.  

Check it out.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Even More from Mississippi

Mississippi appreciates its writers, big time.

Of course, there's Miss Eudora Welty.

On this trip, I visited her garden and a new, temporary exhibit inside her house.
The special exhibit featured her high school and colleges, one of which we share.

The flowers are still blooming. Beautiful.
We also said hello to her Night-Blooming Cereus, on the front porch. Not blooming.

I read this in her garden, a favorite quote, always has been:

But this time, my friend Ivy and I also popped into 

Check out the chairs! I love the way the shade and the sun play against these benches.

 Here's my own Willie Morris story.

I was a librarian-in-training at Simmons College in Boston. My first adventure outside the South. It snowed on November 19, hard, and again on Easter Sunday, not so deep. I loved Boston. I loved Simmons. I did not love the weather, but the people were fascinating and I loved living there.
I was always running into Yankees who knew little about my homeland.

While studying at Simmons, I worked a couple of days a week at the Harvard Medical School Library. The director was smart and well-read. And completely puzzled by me.
One day he called me into his office and held up a book. "I'm reading a good story," he said. "Willie Morris wrote it. It's about a fictional town called Yazoo."

Well, of course, as most of us know, it's Yazoo City. 
It's real. 
And it's still there.

While I'm remembering Mississippi and its writers, I can't resist re-sharing this. 
Ivy's table decorations way back when Glory Be was new.

And soon I'll have another book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, to add to her table. 
Some days it feels like a miracle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum

What an amazing weekend!
From the lectures to the ribbon cutting, the friends who returned and the ones who live in Mississippi and worked so hard to make this weekend perfect- outstanding in every way.

(Don't you love that logo?)

Here's a link to some of the highlights from the blog of Dr. John Jung. 
Be sure to click on the link at the end of his post and scroll through the pictures. You'll feel like you were there! 

This is one of my favorite pictures from the weekend-- of my friend Bobby Joe Moon and my parents' friend, Mrs. Jane Dunlap.

She's been instrumental in beautifying our little town and personally oversees and tends the gorgeous roses near the Railroad Museum.

When I told Mrs. Dunlap how much I loved seeing her roses every time I come to visit, she said, "Go out there and talk to them and tell them you love them!"

So I did.

Bobby and one of the weekend's organizers, Frieda Quon, filled me in on the details and encouraged me to attend. And am I ever glad I did! Although I'd read Dr. Jung's book, I learned so much about the history of why we had many Chinese groceries in the Delta and about the significant contributions made by these hardworking families.

If you're in the Delta, plan a stop on the campus of Delta State University and take time to visit the museum. 

 (This one's for my many friends who've recently taken up MahJongg.
 I may have to learn. A beautiful display, don't you think?)

Sometimes research is so much more than that. It's uncovering stories and digging deeper, yes. But it's also about people. This Homecoming week was all about friends- old and new- and family. I loved it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

One of the reasons we keep plugging away, no?

(And thank you to the friend who shared this and whose identity I have forgotten/lost/misplaced...)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More from Mississippi: Porches- A thing I love

Because I love screened-in porches and good friends as much as anything.

Here's a post from my great friends' neighbor's terrific blog. Check out the pictures and you'll understand why I love that porch.

They live in Eudora Welty's neighborhood filled with wonderful old houses and tons of front, back, side, screened porches. 

Since I don't want to <steal> one of Marsha's terrific blog pics (click on that link up there and see for yourself), here are my friend and I sitting together at a different table. A few years ago. We've been friends since before we were born.

This week we found a corner of the porch and sat. Talked. Sipped. Worked a crossword puzzle. Read. Talked some more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Although I left Mississippi for college a few years ago (hahaha), it's where my family is, where my heart is. Home.

Spending a week here for a reason I'll call research is pretty special.

Even if <research> means sitting on the porch listening and talking.
Riding around places I remember but thought I'd forgotten.
Not writing a single thing down.

This weekend I'll spend time listening to authorities speak about things I'm interested in, and I'll take plenty of notes. 
I'll hang out with a friend of my mama's. 
I'll sit in libraries. 
I may even sit under a tree or two.

Last weekend I took a few pictures. 
I'll share so you can enjoy, too.

Sunset over the Mississippi River. That's Arkansas over there.

 Artifacts unearthed and on display. 
From some deep dark filing cabinet, I assume.

Historic marker unveiled on the campus of Delta State University, the site of my first school. My  memories of nursery school include taking a field trip across campus to see the "Science Museum," which consisted of a two-headed lamb and a tapeworm that had been removed during surgery. A very long tapeworm. I'm sure there was more. That's all I remember.

I have no idea what I'll do with this thought, but it's percolating. 
Historic Jackson.

Not often that I see this much cotton ready to be picked.
I remember when the fields were full of it though.
Quite beautiful. Even if the stories may not be so beautiful.
Know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing Notebooks

I still remember Carolyn Coman at one of the earlier HIGHLIGHTS Whole Novel workshops showing us her writing notebook. The one she scribbled ideas in when she was gardening- or doing all sorts of things that didn't seem like writing. 

That was a while ago (okay, it was early fall, 2005). I was just beginning the story that would eventually become THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY (Coming January, 2015. Don't do the math. It takes me a while.)


To this day, I've never used just one notebook for my pre-writing scribbles. And that's a problem. I have notes everywhere! 

Including in a Scrivener document. Which is where I always end up. But you can't drag your computer to some of the places where you do your best thinking, right? And you never know when an idea or a thought will need writing down.

It would be helpful if all those brilliant thoughts ended up in the same notebook.

So I'll steal some of Linda Urban's excellent ideas.

Have you been following her "notebook" posts about writing? I love how she shares details about what's in those notebooks. Here's a LINK.  There are several. Follow them all!

And just before we departed New Jersey, I popped in on Elizabeth Eulberg et al. and their "YA Romance" panel at the Morristown Festival of the Book. Elizabeth held up a notebook, complete with tabs. That's the look I'm going for!

Aside: Elizabeth has a very good post on her blog about what authors have control over and what they have NO control over. Mostly I agree with her. It's worth reading if you've wondered about things like book jacket art, festivals and promotions, etc. Read it HERE. 

What kind of notebook do you use for your important pre-writing scribbles? Or do you start right up sitting in front of your computer? 
Is it different for each project?
Do you love a certain type of paper, a beautiful notebook, a regular 3-ring binder?
Inspire me with your ideas, please!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's that time of year.  2015 Calendar Ordering Time!

Actually, I kind of missed the suggested order date. But it's not too late and I'm placing my order today for the QUAKER MOTTO CALENDAR.

Here's the 2015 order form.
AND most importantly, the contact info should you need to reach out.

I don't actually sell/ write/ produce these. My sister-in-law Marion Ballard is the one to call/ email. Her contact info is right there.

You may also want to read:
Each year I post about these calendars. Here's one of the first, with a quote from Aunt Margery about the family's connection to them:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Glory Game!

How much do I love this very cool game?

Eli made it for his outside reading project at Jackson Prep. His mom, who's a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf and uses GLORY BE with her students, shared it.

Some of the stops along the way--

Segregated water fountain, move back two spaces. 
Freedom Riders come to Mississippi, move forward four spaces. 
Glory writes a brave letter to the newspaper, move forward six spaces. 
Swimming pool is closed because of integration, move back four spaces. 

I'm totally impressed. Thanks, Eli and Mom for sharing and for your clever creativity!