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

Friday, August 29, 2014


I'm not even going to attempt to describe what it's like to spend three (or more!) days at a Highlights Foundation UNWorkshop. 

Your very own room to create.

Instead, I'll show it in pictures.

 Day One. Arrival. Showing off my cabin. There's a sign in the window with my name on it. And it says Welcome BACK, Augusta. When you're a repeater, you get that Welcome Back thing. 

I thought it was appropriate that this hung in my cabin. I won't show you the top of the calendar. Just know it was a blond who resembles me in no way. But the date is approximately the time I was going to be writing about during my days UNWorkshopping.

The last time I was here, it was November and a light snow fell. This time the flowers were breathtaking.

I love the lavender!
And the sky!

Jo suggested Teddie, Janet and I sit on the porch, or inside the Lodge, if we wanted to talk about what we'd written.
We did.


Here are my writing buds, Janet McLaughlin and Teddie Aggeles. They loved it as much as I did.

One of my favorite places is the rock garden. Serenity.

Also fun to see what others have to say.

 We walked this long and winding road. Mostly at the end of one of the fabulous meals prepared by Chef Joseph.

Friends have written about their own experiences.

Stacey was also UNWorkshopping with us. She pretty much tells it all HERE.

My friend Joyce has also been to a Highlights UnWorkshop and blogged about it HERE.  She calls it Writer Heaven. I have to agree.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Books! Books! Books!

An abundance of riches.

I can't keep up. I adore middle-grade novels and want to read every single book anybody mentions to me.

One thing I really liked about Lisa Graff's latest book, ABSOLUTELY ALMOST, was the voice of Albie. So true to his stuggling/ average kid/ can't quite get it character.
And the setting, New York City. Yes and wow.
Lisa's love of the city came through with perfection. I was right there with Albie, eating, walking, checking out the museums. Or not.

Ice cream cones at Tasti D-Lite and Mr. Softee, instructions for hailing a cab and pulling the cord to get the bus to stop. Just what a real NYC kid would do.

Here's a little of Albie's voice, with his wonderfully-drawn babysitter, Calista.

"The walk signal came on, and after checking both ways twice, Calista let us cross. At least she didn't make me hold her hand like I was some kind of baby that had never crossed a street before."

If you're interested in reading a long review of the book, click here for Betsy Bird's take on it. 

I also read and reviewed DEATH BY TOILET PAPER by Donna Gephart, another favorite author whose books never ever disappoint. Check out my review, HERE.

And I departed from my usual middle-grade addiction to stay up way too late with Lisa Schroeder's THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU.
If I were my younger self, this would be the book my friends and I would pass around and love.
Even my older self couldn't put it down, obviously.
Having grown up in a Friday Night Lights kind of world (and being a huge fan of the TV show), I totally get this blogger, on the topic.
Since she says it better than I can, I'll quote her and link back to her post:

"The Bridge from Me to You is one you'll want to add to your list if you want to fill that FNL-shaped hole in your heart, remember the stickiness of growing up in a small town or read a book that is good."

I agree on all counts. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Working Space

I do not like a cluttered work space. 
Or a noisy one.
Or one right next to the laundry room.
(But that's another story.)

But sometimes you just have to spread everything out and make a mess.
After today, I'm cleaning up and putting away. But for now, here's a little corner of my desk. 
I'm working hard. ➜➜➜➜➜

I couldn't do it without my absolute favorite book for words.


Just now I went to look up a synonym for worry.
Guess what was in the list.


One of my mother's favorite words.
As in, You Don't Need to Stew Over This Revision.

(She'd be wrong about that.)

I'm smiling to think that a Writer's Digest Press book as often-used as the FLIP DICTIONARY recognizes a word I love.

Now I have to decide if I put it into a middle-grade novel, will there be a kid reader in today's world who has ever stewed over anything? 

Here's an earlier post where I'll tell you even more about FLIP DICTIONARY.
Click on over and read about Back-to-School supplies, with a great comment, too. 

Feel free to let me know if you have any other Tools of the Trade you can't live without.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to School

This made me smile today.
Advice for Creative Types as they begin a new school year.
Or a new writing year.
Or any kind of new endeavor. 

Here's a favorite: 

5. Find your tribe. They're out there, other creative minds who think and dream like you. If you already have a tribe, keep an eye out for artists wandering the halls alone. We artists spend so much time in our heads, it's sometimes hard to connect to the world. But without doubt, we need to.

Susan is one of the most creative of my creative type friends. And, I'm proud to say, I'm part of her tribe.

I love the art that sometimes accompanies her blogposts. 
Here's a sample, used with Susan's permission.

Does it feel like Back to School time to you? Are ideas percolating in your brain? Happy creating, everybody!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


 My quick review.

Fabulous cover, no?

Chinese immigrants in America, 1923.
A young-ish YA, historical, a time period and topic that's fascinating. Cleverly plotted love story and mystery/ adventure tale.

Some really glorious writing. For example:
 When Jade Moon/ Fire Horse is trapped at Angel Island-
"The night was long and filled with the sounds of strangers' breath instead of sleep... I thought of our rice terraces, their beauty and promise built over generations, and I tried to remember that dreams, like terraces, are built one stone at a time."

About stories, her friend explains where they come from: "Deep inside of us, where we must bury what we desire most in order to protect it."

 I particularly loved the character of Neal, the Irish immigrant, Fire Horse's protector. 
Super secondary characters, all around. 
Great quote from Neal: "Your name will be on a headstone if Mr. Hon finds out about this." Neil rubbed his hand over his face. "Chinawomen have those little feet. They're quiet. They stay at home."

To this, Jade Moon replies: "Not all of them."

Sunday, August 17, 2014


All writers I know love to eavesdrop. I tell kids when they ask What Does it Take to Be A Writer? that they must listen and remember.

Or in my case, listen and write it down.

The best place for eavesdropping is one where you'll blend in. A train ride, for example.
I like to name characters seen on the train and imagine their stories.

Here's an exchange between a boy in a Yankee cap and another kid, possibly his older sister.

I don't think I'll be using this. Go ahead and steal it if you'd like.

BOY (as we pulled into the South Orange stop on the NJ Transit Mid-Town Direct to NYC):
"This looks just like New York!"

GIRL: You've never even been to New York.

BOY: "Well, it looks just like what I've seen on Cash Cab."

What's the best eavesdropping conversation you've heard? 
Or are you really going to tell me you never eavesdrop...

Check this site for even more confessions of writers eavesdropping.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Value of Notes

A zillion years ago, I went to one of the very first "whole novel" workshops sponsored by the HIGHLIGHTS FOUNDATION. Carolyn Coman led the entire thing, with help from her husband Stephen Roxburgh.

The workshop was SEEING INTO YOUR STORY.

I have an entire legal pad filled with notes.
Obviously, my story needed a whole lot of seeing into.

But some of the notes reflect exactly the same things my now editor, Andrea Pinkney, told me when I began revising THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Which, by the way, was what I worked on during that long weekend in Honesdale with Carolyn.
Back when I barely had a rough draft.

And the main character's name was Shelton. (now Theo)
And his uncle's name was Chester. (now Raymond)

I had no clue what the time period was though I thought it was the present.

The baseball player the kids loved was Mickey Mantle. (now Henry Aaron)

Don't even ask.

Some of the advice Carolyn gave me.
1. Make a bigger deal of the piano scenes.
2. Shelton doesn't have to be quite as sad if his parents died a long time ago and he's been living in a happy situation ever since.

Some of the excellent, quick tips I wrote, filling my entire legal pad.

1. If possible, have characters already knowing each other. Introductions are difficult.
2. Re: PACING. Err on the side of brevity. You can always add. But your potential editor or agent may get bogged down.

Some of the exercises we did (the ones I liked. I'm not crazy about all writing exercises...):

Who were the voices that made you laugh in your childhood, or in the present?
What were some of the expressions you grew up with?  * (see below for answers)

I wonder how many of my writer friends have attended a Highlights Foundation Workshop?
Did you learn as much as I did?

Here we are in our class photo. All those years ago.
The beginning of a great journey that thankfully turned into a book.
Coming, January 2015.

Answer to *
1. Hotter than a depot stove.
2. That ole' peckerwood. (My childhood word's meaning is totally not what some of the current slang dictionaries say it means...)
3. If you don't behave, I'm getting a switch off that switch tree.

I wasn't blogging back in those days, but you can read about some of my Highlights writer friends HERE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Things I Love: Old and New

Can you think of anything better than a Writers Reunion?
My original critique group, sans one important member, happened to be at the same place at the same time yesterday.

So I dusted off (figuratively speaking) two favorite old things, my tomato server and a silver compote. Not to mention a story or two.

They are favorites because they were wedding gifts I've used a lot.
And love a lot.
The tomato server was a gift of my grandmother's lifelong best friend, who shared her "S" initial with me and gave me her engraved server.

The compote came from one of the funniest ladies I've ever known. Annie B. Gipson.
When I was a middle-grader, I worked with her and we laughed all the time.

 Here's the reason we gathered. Our friend Leslie Guccione was in town.
Look at those yummy New Jersey tomatoes!

 Here we all are!
Lee Stokes Hilton, Leslie, and Kay Kaiser.
(Lee's excellent food blog can be found

The GLORY BE M&Ms fall into the realm of new favorite things. Leftover from one of my last school visits.
And the idea came from an amazing Mother Daughter Book Group dinner, a connection made through a teaching colleague many years ago when I worked in Baltimore.
A job I loved.
With people I truly loved (and still do!).

Such good memories.
Now I'll stop strolling down memory lane and get back to the fabulous writing ideas this group generated. 

(You may be interested in this post, about one of my trips back "home" to Baltimore.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

And another perspective...

Following on my post yesterday, great minds thinking alike and all that, my friend Caroline Rose has posted a perfect quote on her blog:

We need books — and I want to publish books — that reflect the whole range of a child or teenager’s emotional experiences and take us through those experiences with them. So the stories come through a child’s heart and speak to a child’s heart; so they have the bravery and honesty to look at a muddle* and acknowledge its pain, and not to be moralistic or easy; and, in the end, to help us all make it through.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Solving the Problems of the World Through Literature...

Or not.

I've had such great talks with kids about my book. Some of their questions about GLORY BE, about the 60s, about integration, even about my opinions, have blown me away.

Still, I feel very strongly that writers shouldn't set out to solve the problems of the world in a book. Or to teach young readers all the answers. That's not why I write. But if a book's topic relates to something going on in a child's life, in her school, on a sports team, make that connection. Just understand that the author probably didn't sit down one day and say "Hmmm, let's teach kids to be nicer to each other."

In a good book, it just happens that way.

For tips on the topic, especially as your younger child begins a new school year,
check out this article from Scholastic via Parent and Child.

I've probably only written about this one time, an interview with Children's Literature Network, linked HERE:

Of course, I know writers look for ways to connect their books to kids, teachers, parents. But a good book stands on its own. No preaching necessary!
The connections, when they are made, happen magically- or so it seems.

Opinions are welcome. That's what the comment box is for.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Way We Write

I so love this:

"We prewrite. We unwrite.  It’s messy."

from Linda Urban's blog about writing THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING. 

Here's the post: Click right on over-

There's more, here:

And be sure to check back. Linda promises she's going to tell us more about her writing process. Every writer is different, but what fun to watch those wheels turn, right?

One of my favorite books ever is HOUND DOG TRUE by Linda Urban. Here's a short review, plus more:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Dancing to the Oldies

Today I'm excitedly reading what's known as Second Pass Pages for my new book, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. This is a PDF of exactly what the pages will look like. I'm searching for typos. I'm finding none so far.
(Oh, how I love you, Scholastic production team!)

There's a dance theme to this book.

Growing up in Cleveland, Mississippi and taking tap and ballet classes forever, I adored my teacher, Ruth Hart.

A little while ago, my friend and fellow childhood dancer, Beth Boswell Jacks, wrote an essay that pretty much speaks to how a lot of us felt about our dance teachers. You can read it HERE

I'm sharing this quote from the head of that essay. 
I think it speaks to a lot of the arts- hey to a lot of life lessons, right?

                     “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up
                       and dance. Great dancers are not great because
                     of their technique, they are great because of their
                               passion.” – Martha Graham