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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Writing Tip Tuesday

Okay, it's not Tuesday.
And I'm most decidedly not Barbara O'Connor (but I do love her writing).

When I was first beginning to explore how to write a middle-grade novel, Barbara was well into her career. She was generous about passing down craft tips she'd learned the hard way (and from her fabulous editor, Frances Foster). 

This morning I happened to be researching something totally unrelated to this post. And yet it appeared (How does that happen, Mr. Google?): A tip about writing endings. So hard, yet so important: 
"...if you blow the ending....well, then, it's like serving brussel sprouts for dessert after the gourmet dinner."  Barbara O'Connor

I'm passing along this fabulous writing tip about ENDINGS. There are many more tips on Barbara's blog.  I've shared a few HERE and THERE over the life of my own blog. 
Thanks, pal, for cluing me in.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

12 Days of Books

Why not? There are lists for everything. 
As we wind down the year and march toward the holidays, let's talk about some of our favorite books, with potential for gifting.

But first-
Kate Messner reminds us of the impact our books have on their intended readers, the kids and the librarians and teachers, parents and grandparents who share them. But especially the young readers. 
If you haven't read her poem, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR BOOK TODAY, or haven't read it in a while, HERE IT IS.
Good reading at this time of year. Or anytime.

Before I join this fun countdown suggested by book people whose ideas I can't wait to hear, may I say a few words about lists?  If you didn't have a book out this year. If your book kind of dropped through the very large cracks. If it came out in January to a big hoopla and in December is barely chugging along. All those things can make writers nuts if we let them. 

Instead of going nuts, I'm planning to think about the books I loved this year.  And share a few.

They may not be brand new. They don't have to be serious or funny or the latest thing or the oldest thing. Just books I want others to know about. 

(True confessions: Even though I treasure each good review of my own books, I'm terrible at postisng on Amazon and Goodreads. There's something about rating books that reeks of comparison, and I have a very hard time doing this. If they didn't ask me to give those confounded comparative stars, I'd put a lot more books on those sites. So this is my little way of adding my opinions to the universe, with no comparisons and no fancy stars. Just twelve days of book love.)

Feel free to share your own favorites! Use the hashtag #12daysofbooks, and join in the fun!
Everybody's welcome!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Saving Stuff

At a recent gathering of authors, the topic of STUFF came up.

As in, what do you do with all the critiques from your Writers Group, the notebooks, the scribbles, the literally stacks of boxes filled with what can be called the ephemera of writing. 
(Although the purest form of that word means useful for one day, which is WAY LESS than most of us spend on the treasures that turn into our novels...)

I know of at least three places that preserve and share and digitize and save all this.

One is the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. Among many esteemed writers, you can find Barbara O'Connor's goodies there. You can also read all about it on THIS BLOGPOST.

Many Tampa Bay and Florida authors, as well as those from all over, have given their saved manuscripts, signed galleys, and other fun stuff to Joan Kaywell at the University of South Florida's HIPPLE COLLECTION. My friend Shannon Hitchcock wrote about it here.

(Joan has an extensive collection of signed finished books as well as Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) there. Including mine. Thank you, Joan.)

I'm proud to say that my books' extras are housed at the DeGrummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. 

Off to find a new home where it will be available to researchers, lovers of kid-lit, or anybody who's curious about exactly how we write.  

It's hard to say goodbye. 
But nice to know somebody is saving it all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

John Grisham on Writing

I downloaded these podcasts of John Grisham's book tour a while back.
To be honest, I listened to the first one and was underwhelmed.

But today is a beautiful day here in sunny Florida and I needed something to listen to on my walk. 
So I tried another one. 
And I LOVED it. A must-listen, for writers and readers and walkers and runners.

The podcast took place at Lemuria Books with Greg Iles and Matthew Guinn.
What all three have to say about the way they write, how they get their ideas, longhand v. computers, editors, first readers-- So Interesting!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writer friends, pass it on.

Today Facebook's memory was a good one.
It was a link to a post I'd written WAY back, on a group blog of southern writers.

But the message is still true. 
I couldn't have published a single book, possibly not a single essay, or book review, or even those little poems when I was nine years old -without the help of friends.

HERE'S THE LINK to the essay. 

(And here's the photo accompanying it. My friend Leslie's porch, where our writing group enjoyed a day in the "mountains" and lunch on the porch.)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Home Going

Is there anything better than going home?

Last week I got to visit my hometown, see old friends, make new ones, celebrate family, and talk to an awesome group of kids about books and writing.

My visit started at St. George's Episcopal School in Memphis. (Thank you to the lovely folks at NOVEL bookstore for the introduction.)
Absolutely fabulous teachers and a librarian I could have sat and talked to all day long. 

I spoke to a large group first. Their questions were so thoughtful.  One asked if I had any "author friends" and if I did, what did we do. This question always cracks me up. 
I mentioned a few, recommended some excellent books. When I said, Barbara O'Connor, there was an audible gasp.  

Check out the library display. Their class was in the middle of reading THE SMALL ADVENTURE OF POPEYE AND ELVIS.  

Those are rambler models on the library shelves!

Of course, I just HAD to go upstairs to see that the entire hall in front of their classroom was a Coon Dog Cemetery. Straight from the book! 
I believe their teacher even told me she'd visited it, in person, over the summer. 
Did I say these are dedicated teachers?

Such fun kids!

The Group!
Talking about writing THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, 

After a drive through the Delta and a quick stop to hang out with my sister and her family, it was off to Delta State University, Cleveland MS, for the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum's HOME-GOING weekend.

 (Cotton waiting to be picked. Most of it was gone though.)

(Books waiting to be bought. Most of them were gone, too!)

I finally met my Facebook friend Jeu Foon, originally from Forrest City AR, now a California boy, a great writer himself, with such interesting childhood memories.

And Holly Yu, a writer from Rhodes College, Memphis. I met them at the Home Going.  
There were 350 people there to celebrate their heritage and their southern connections.

Here's Jeu, inside the museum, highlighting my book. 
(Thanks, friend!)
 I used the oral histories there to research MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG.

I ate well, talked a lot, made a road trip to Dockery Farms on a blue-sky Delta day.
What a great trip!

And I'll not even complain too much about having to de-ice my car! 
Though I am happy to be home.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday Reading

How does Monday roll around so often?

But I'm excited to share my Monday books this week for #IMWAYR

First - the fabulous REFUGEE by Alan Gratz.

This weekend, my friend and fellow Tampa Bay writer Shannon Hitchcock and I presented a session at the annual Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) conference. Our topic was Tackling Tough Topics with Books.

REFUGEE fits beautifully into the books I shared with the librarians.

You can learn about the story, the starred reviews, the accolades REFUGEE is receiving on the author's website, HERE.
(This would make a great book for a faculty Book Group discussion. So much talk about!)

For my blog readers who are considering writing from more than one Point of View, this is a master class. The way Gratz weaves the three characters' stories together with little gems of connection. Brilliant.
The way he ends each small chapter with a punch of micro-tension, ditto.
Sharks, storms, sinking ships, escapes from every disaster you could imagine!
And the characters practically step off the page and live with you.
Highly recommended.

I listened to an old favorite as I drove to and from FAME.
It's one of the books that made me want to write historical fiction. I've read and shared it many times, but I'd never listened to Mildred Taylor's ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, and if you've got a long drive, it will make it zip by.
(Unless you have to stop and frantically write things you love about the writing.)

The Christmas scene when the Logan children open their books breaks my heart, every time. The  award-winning audio is beautifully read. I loved it!

The other two books I shared at the FAME session, if you're curious...
These authors tackled their tough topics with grace and humor and glorious writing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Okay, yeah, I know. Stay away from all those sites that review your book. No good can come of it.
Well, sometimes.

I popped over there just now to see what everybody has to say about a book I just read. THORNHILL. I am so mystified by this story that I don't know what to think. I'm not posting links because, honestly, I don't want to advocate for it, even though I know some middle-grade kids will like being creeped out.  Google if you care. (The New York Times Book Review reviewed it last week.)

But once you look at Goodreads, you can be there a while. I had a comment or two I had to follow up on, and then that led me to this review of MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG.  As much as I do not like the rating system when I have to do it to others' books, I do appreciate getting five stars.

More like a 4.5 for the slow start, but I loved this book! I appreciate how the "bad" guy was still the bad guy at the end of the book. I think it could really open up discussion with students about how sometimes people act out or pick on people because things aren't going well in their lives. I like how Billy responded to the hurtful things Willis said. I can't wait to talk this book up with my students. 

(And I can tell you right now, beginnings are crucial. If you don't believe me, check out Dorian Cirrone's excellent blogposts on the subject. I try very hard to start books with a bang. I'll try harder.)

Monday, October 9, 2017


One of my favorite things about Facebook is the "memories."

Otherwise, how would I know what I did a year, two years, several years ago? Kind of like keeping a diary, right?

When this Blogpost showed up as a memory, I felt it needed a little updating. 

CLICK HERE for my updated post about Saying Goodbye (to New Jersey).

(And here's what part of that Facebook memory caught my eye. ME, as seen by a former student...)


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thoughts for the Day

Life has been busy and crazy, and my poor blog has been overlooked. I've been writing, but it's hard to be inspired with all that's swirling around us.

Then this morning on a walk I saw this bumper sticker.

Today, while re-reading an email, I noticed this on Irene Latham's signature. 

(If you want to be treated to gems like this on a regular basis, read her blog. So good.)

"NOT knowing when the dawn will come
     I open every door."  - Emily Dickinson


And while I was writing this post, a friend shared this photograph from their Irma evacuation.

That should do very nicely for inspiration, don't you agree?

Monday, September 18, 2017


(This post is dedicated to my fabulous writer friends who are on their journey to publication. You know who you are. 😀)

The last slide in my PowerPoint presentation is often this.

I always tell the kids (or grownups) that I had the craziest idea of all: Someday, I would write a book!

Then you have an experience like I did this summer, and you know it was worth every single minute of the long (long!) years trying to write and sell your book.

First of all, when you get an invitation that takes you back to a place you love, give it serious consideration. When it comes with a heartfelt description of a summer mentoring program, from a guy who clearly loves his kids and loves what he does, say Yes!

Here's how the invitation came to me:

My name is Marlow Artis and I'm the Academic Support Specialist for Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate. BRMA is the flagship mentoring program for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina, serving students of color. July 31st through August 4th, we will have our Week of Wonder. WOW is an intermediate camp for rising 5th and 6th Graders. 

Marlow went on to say the kids would read GLORY BE and he'd love to have me come talk to them and sign their books.

What an honor!

I was very excited and couldn't wait to meet these kids. 

This sign greeted me as I turned down the road to the school where the camp was taking place (though they spent a lot of time doing fun and inspirational things "on the road").

After a lunch that put most cafeteria meals to shame (provided by various Chapel Hill eateries, and the kids LOVED it), we met for an afternoon of PowerPoints, Junk Poker boxes, and Q&As with the kids, their mentors, and even a parent or two.

The Community Pool crafted from supplies gathered on a previous field trip.

New Glory Be cover designs.

Such smart kids. Such dedicated adults and young adults who work with them.

Thank you, Blue Ribbon Mentors and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for an afternoon I'll always remember!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Billy Wong's Story


Thank you to my Mississippi Delta Chinese friends, especially Frieda Quon, who very articulately shares her story in this video.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Packing up, say HELLO!

I'm off!

First stop, one of my favorite places in the universe.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

On Tuesday, August 15, at 4:00, I'll be MEETING AND GREETING at Flyleaf Books.
Stop in and say hello, fellow Tarheels!

After what I'm certain will be a really fun day talking to the kids in the Blue Ribbon mentoring program, 

My panel is right after lunch. 
Signing right before. 
Check the schedule for last minute updates. This is going to be fun! 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Road Trip! (Reading Books Across 50 States)

A few years ago when I was still a school librarian, the 4th grade teacher and I had this great idea. The students were doing reports on their chosen state. Why not read a novel set in that state?

Great! I said.

Then I realized I had to find books suitable for lots of states that weren't very well-represented in middle-grade novels.

A fun but time-consuming project.

Now, look at this!

50 States

Somebody else did all the work. 

There are a few under-represented states (Hello, Arkansas! May I suggest a book called MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG?)

But I can see this being an excellent starting place for some really fun books.

(I wish there were a way to suggest titles because a few have already come to mind.) 

UPDATE: Thanks to my commenter, Ramona, for the additional links. 
Here's one from NEA:

And this, which has some additional, very interesting links for teachers and writers:

New update alert! I found another list (via a Facebook memory of my own. This must be a topic I'm quite interested in).

Monday, June 26, 2017


Hey, guess what my fabulous agency sent my way.


I love to share.

Are there teachers or librarians out there who use audiobooks with your kids?
If so, leave me a comment, here or on Facebook or Twitter (ARScattergood via Twitter).

I'd love to get this in the mail no later than Thursday.
So let's do this thing today and tomorrow, okay?

PS: If I can find a big enough box, I may have a few brand new Advance Reader Copies of books (not mine) to add to the mix.

Monday, June 12, 2017


It's MONDAY and what am I reading, you ask?

Some people don't understand how I can read <MANY> books at the same time.

Clearly, those people are not librarians. Or teachers.

I can juggle books with the best of the best.

Right now I'm reading the (so far) excellent YA novel SALT TO THE SEA.
I've always been a fan of World War II books. This one is multi-POV and a different setting from others I've read and I love it.

I am reading the e-book, downloaded via my local library's website, and I'm also on the waiting list for the audiobook. The wise and wonderful Teri Lescene mentioned it (I think) at her talk about recommended books at the Kaigler Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi this spring. Or maybe she or her partner-in-reading Karin Perry posted on Facebook or tweeted how great the audiobook is. I rarely both listen and read the actual book, but I'm going to give this one a try. As soon as I finish the words on the page. The page of my Kindle, that is.

I have an ARC of Nancy Cavanaugh's new novel which I started before we began our trek northward, and I'm looking forward to dipping back into this fun book later today.

I'm also reading an adult novel which is intriguing and not at all what I'd normally pick up. But I adore Monica Wood's writing tips and I even blogged about her fun, funky craft books, POCKET MUSE (one and two) on a group blog I once wrote for.  So I'm reading her new novel, recommended to me by a random stranger standing in front of the New Books shelf at my public library. That happens a lot- perfect strangers connecting at the library.

I'm also re-reading at least two writing craft books.

A lovely screened porch in a little cottage on Maryland's Eastern Shore is the perfect place to read. We're visiting, away from the distractions of my house, not cooking much, no weeds to worry about or errands that need running. I'm in reading heaven.

I hope your summer reading is the same!

Check out some of the other Monday Readers, linked HERE 
and also HERE.

Tell me, what are you reading?

Monday, June 5, 2017

First Lines

I love it when I follow a blogpost down a rabbit hole and actually end up happy. 
(Sometimes, I end up feeling as if I've wasted an hour, don't you?)

Here's where I ended up today:

And this quote from Stephen King is perfect:
"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."

Dorian Cirrone wrote an entire series of posts about First Lines.
(CLICK THAT LINK. Get lost down that rabbit hole! You'll learn a lot.)

I LOVE a good first line.

Dorian shares so many, it's hard to borrow just a couple. So click on over and read them all.

What Remains by Helene Dunbar
No one ever calls in the middle of the night to tell you that you’ve won the lottery.

And this:

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.

Go ahead. Begin! Or revise if you've already written a draft.
Hook your reader from very the first line.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thank you, Third Graders

My novel GLORY BE is used in a third-grade historical fiction curriculum (HERE'S the link) and this time of year I get A LOT of letters from those readers. 
I try to answer them all. 
Sadly, sometimes they reach me too late to answer.

Their questions are often thoughtful, sometimes wacky, occasionally critical, frequently helpful. 
Just this week, a third grade girl (Hi, Lydia!) advised me to continue to "put the little seeds you put in the beginning that make that problem big later in the book.
I predict Lydia will be a smart editor or a writer herself someday. Or both.

Here's what one enterprising teacher came up with. And I love it.

Thank you, Ms. Neurer's Fabulous Third Graders, way up there in Minnesota! 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

School's Out! (well almost)

A few photos from my almost-summer school connections. 

When author Kirby Larson suggested to her many friends and fans that we make a connection to be kinder, take notice of our world, and to all-out celebrate the late author Amy Krouse Rosenthal via her #MoreforAKR campaign, my first thought was one of my favorite nearby schools, Wauchula Elementary. I emailed the librarian, Mary Idsardi, and invited myself for a visit. She accepted my invitation and made a party of the day. I brought books. She had the yellow umbrella. I know Amy would have enjoyed the yellow, the red velvet cake and the ice tea. I sure did.

Here's a post about my previous visit to Wauchula Elementary to celebrate my own book, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. Mary also outdid herself with that. She's one of those special librarians who not only loves books, she loves her kids.

I love to SKYPE also. Especially with such well-prepared students. Here I am Skyping with Kellee Moye's Book Club, down the road a piece in Orlando.

(Perhaps the best student question relating to MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG in a while. Maybe ever. At least from a writer's perspective. I hope I remember it right. Juan: "Did you intentionally give Azalea all those exclamations like Holy Moly Mashed Potatoes? Were they part of her personality as you saw her?" Yes, I did. She may have been a quiet kid, but inside her head, she was exclaiming.)

I had two more fun local school visits that I don't have many photos of.  But here I am talking about creating characters from real people. That's my brother-in-law, inspiration and advisor for Robbie in GLORY BE, on the left. And a picture of Ruth Hart's dance class on the right. The students at Countryside Christian School asked great questions and were so much fun to talk to.

Then off to my old stompin' grounds. I know. Some of you don't equate me and New Jersey, but this is The Kent Place School, the actual school where I worked for over ten years. They invited me back. The library felt like home. Especially when I saw these books smiling at me. 

And the librarian, my friend Deborah Afir, makes me so proud! 

The girls were excited, well-read, and full of great questions.

I'm still smiling about a comment from my friend who teaches science and took the photos. Becky Van Ry, quoting her daughter: "She put down the date-due stamp and picked up a pen."

Yes, I did. But it still feels nice to be back in a school media center.

Afterwards, I moseyed from Summit to Madison, NJ, stopping for a treat at this place. Anybody recognize the Magic Fountain? I almost didn't!

Downtown Madison now has a lovely little independent bookstore, Short Stories. Here I am with two of my former teachers, my good friends Pat Casey and Edee Zabriskie. A few years ago, Pat's students brainstormed ideas for THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY when I was stuck. It's always good to talk about ideas with kids who love to read.  :)


Another school visit the next day back in my old neighborhood. St. Patrick's School, Chatham, was a place I often strolled by with my sweet dogs. I was happy to visit and talk about my books but somehow nobody took any photos!

What a treat to be back in New York/ New Jersey, to see old friends and old places and make new ones. 

I especially enjoyed pulling out a few sweaters. 
The weather was gorgeous. I'd wandered all over the city for the weekend, 

before heading to New Jersey to share thoughts on writing and books. 

Thank you to all the teachers and librarians who've invited me to your schools, who've Skyped, who've prepared your students and sold my books and let me share just a bit of my story with you. 

Have a great summer!