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

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?)

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Guess what tomorrow is.

First day of November!
First day of standard time!

National Novel Writing Month. 
Bet you'd forgotten about that.

I've blogged about it a few times.
One of my favorite 2013 posts was inspired by Caroline Starr Rose's Fake-o-NaNo. Which is totally how I do a Novel Writing Month.

Here's it is. (You can click HERE or read some of it below:)

 Three years ago, when I was between projects and needed to jumpstart something new, I did NaNoWriMo. 
Mine, too, was Fake-o.

But if you're a writer who needs inspiration. Or wants to try something new, give it a whirl.


Promise a friend cookies, team up with an online writing partner, or heck- just bake your own cookies and don't admit to a single soul what you're up to. Don't sweat it if what turns up is unreadable.

Or as Caroline says:
The "draft" I finished with is quite possibly the messiest, worst thing I've ever written.

But it's a beginning. And sometimes that's all it takes to create something worth revising. And revising. Over and over again.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

A fabulous piece about revision

Yes, it's long. Hey, it's the New Yorker. But when you have time, click HERE to read the entire article. Hemingway and other greats get a mention.
Here's a bit- to entice:

 Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? ... You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.

John McPhee
The New Yorker

Monday, October 19, 2015

A fun week ahead- 

AND this wonderful review of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.
Mondays aren't so bad after all.

Scattergood, Augusta
The Way to Stay in Destiny
2015. 192pp. $16.99 hc. Scholastic, Inc. 978-0-545-53824-4. Grades 4-7
It’s 1974 and Theo Thomas is starting a new life. His Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam vet, has moved
him to Destiny, Florida. When they move into Miss Sister's Rest Easy Boarding House and
Dance School, Theo discovers a piano and a new friend, Anabel, who shares his interest in
baseball. Neither uncle nor nephew are happy about their new situation, especially when Uncle
Raymond forbids Theo from doing the one of the few things that make him happyplaying the
piano. This quiet, gentle story does many things, including introducing young readers to the
dissent that Vietnam veterans encountered when returning home. Valerie Jankowski, Library
Media Specialist, Washington (Missouri) Middle School [Editor’s Note: Available in e-book

Friday, October 9, 2015

Saying Goodbye

I wrote this post two years ago today. It still makes me a little sad. 
But NJ is a place I love to visit. And your memory places are always special, right?
When we visited NYC this weekend, my daughter bought this "Tribute in Light" from a street vendor. I just hung it over my desk, for inspiration. 
The first time I saw it was the first year it happened. 
My friend Al drove us up the road a piece to see from the NJ side of the river. 
See what I mean about memories?

10/9/15: Saying Goodbye

It's that time of the year. Fall leaves. Shorter days. Blankets and quilts on the beds.

This year when we pack up our place in New Jersey, it will be for the last time. New adventures could be down the road. You never know until you take that path. 
Old friends-- well, ten-year-old friendships, my writing buddies-- wait for me in Florida.

If you want to read a really beautiful goodbye to a house and to a place, you need to read my friend Barbara O'Connor's blog.

Here, you won't find that. I already said goodbye to my house(s) of 30+ years, ages ago.

But now I'm cleaning out files and packing up only what's essential.
Books, especially. Many, many books. Though just as many have gone to the Friends of the Library book sale and other good friends.

I'm packing up a lot of laughs and a lot of memories.

Like these goodbye notes from my last wonderful school library in New Jersey. 

I don't think this student realized how I DREAMED there'd be a book in my heart some day! She meant the books I loved to read and share, still do. 
But yes, Morgan, there was a book in my heart.

Me, skateboarding? I don't think so...

(I'm not sure how well this student knew me. 
There would be no skateboarding in my retirement.)

This is what I'll miss about New Jersey.

Main Street Deli.

My hometown library.
 Library of the Chathams.
And its gardens.

Oh, and I'll miss not pumping gas. No picture needed. 

For more on other times I've said goodbye, click away, below.