Wednesday, May 10, 2017


The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators knows the importance of school visits. That’s where the kids are! In a noisy world, teachers and librarians are often the best ones to connect readers to books.

Unfortunately, schools aren’t always able to host these visits. But at the Wisconsin Educational Media & Technology Association convention, the SCBWI booth was mobbed by educators entering a drawing for a FREE author visit. Nancy Washnieski, a 6th grade teacher from Washburn, Wisconsin, was the lucky winner of a visit and a bag of books by Wisconsin authors and illustrators.

By happy coincidence, Nancy had already bought a copy of my middle-grade novel NATURE GIRL to share with her students. So I got to make the trip from the coast of one great lake to another -- beyond the reach of the interstate, through the Chequamegon National Forest, past Mercer (the loon capitol of the world), to Washburn on the shore of Lake Superior.

I wasn't sure what kind of school I would find in a town of only 2000. (There are schools in New York City that have that many students!) But I knew we had the most important thing in common – we all loved books.

Nancy had been reading NATURE GIRL to her students. They enjoyed Megan’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail, even though they were shocked she didn’t know how to start a campfire. Unlike my heroine, these kids loved being in nature.

They had so many great questions about writing and the reasons for choices I had made. They shared their ideas for a project I’m just beginning – in which a kid from the country gets lost in the city. 

Thank you, Washburn School! I loved sharing my books with you. And thanks for the water bottle with your school's mascot Castle Guards. It came in very handy as I hiked along the spectacular coast of Lake Superior.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Meet Clint McCool

Zing, zong, zing! Brain flash! It's time for another Clint McCool Escapade.

Clint McCool's real name is Walter. But he had to give himself a new identity. Real life just isn't exciting enough for a kid with limitless imagination.

I had so much fun working on this character. It was great to imagine outrageous adventures with alligators and monsters instead of the serious issues my other characters had been grappling with.

As you can see from these covers, Jessika von Innerebner really brought Clint McCool and his exciting escapades to life.  Her illustrations appear throughout these chapter books.

Pre-order the first books of this series by  clicking this link. 

Creativity should be celebrated. New ideas should be encouraged. And yet Clint McCool does live in the real world where escapades have consequences. Octopus's arms will come off––if you yank on them. Jars of brains will break––if you drop them. Flooded streets are impossible to cross. Your best friend Marco will get mad––if you ruin his XL7 Ray Bender. Especially if you took it without his permission.

Things go wrong! That is unavoidable. But whenever Clint gets in trouble, he learns a lesson. His imagination finds a delightful way to fix the disaster. And he also sincerely apologizes. Because we should also use our powers of imagination to think about how it feels to be someone else.

That's how I love to use my brain.

Zing, zong, zing!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Connecting With Readers

I want my books to be a conversation with another person.

When I write, I imagine the characters and their world. I also imagine what a reader will think or feel. When they will laugh. Or gasp. Or maybe even cry.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to find out. When I began writing Nature Girl, my first novel for kids, I lived with a young reader--my ten-year-old daughter Sofia. She happened to pick up the notebook in which I had begun the story of a girl named Megan. I could see by Sofia’s enthusiasm that she loved Megan’s journey. And I also knew when Sofia lost interest! Fortunately she could pinpoint exactly where my story had gotten off track, so I could fix it.

Now that my novels are published, I have conversations with more readers. Sometimes I get to meet them at school appearances. Sometimes they write to me to tell me what they like or didn’t like about a book. I love any kind of feedback.

I got a very special email the other day. My second novel, The Girl Behind the Glass, inspired Olivia in Biloxi, Mississippi, to create this fantastic display for a book fair.

Olivia stands in front of her prize winning display.

There’s the house, creepier than I envisioned. I love how it looks like it’s screaming. There are the hemlock trees. There are the twins at the closet door. Olivia even remembered to put in the bats.

Congratulations, Olivia! Your hard work and imagination is amazing. I’m so proud that my book inspired you. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

A birthday blog!

I'm not the only writer who was born today. 
Mary Roberts Rinehart 1914

Mary Roberts Rinehart was born on August 12, 1876. She studied nursing and married a doctor. After the stock market crash of 1903, she turned to writing as a way to make money. And she did! 

She wrote dozens of books and plays, and hundreds of short stories and articles. She was a war correspondent at the Belgian front during WWI. She had breast cancer, like me, and was one of the first to share that experience in an article in The Ladies Home Journal.

Many of her books were mysteries; she was often called the American Agatha Christie. She’s credited with the phrase: “The butler did it!” because he had, in her novel The Door.

In another book, she created a criminal who always wore a bat costume. This character inspired Bob Kane’s “Batman.”

Would she be surprised to find out that those two memes live on one hundred years later? 

Happy birthday, Mary! I'm proud to share your day. I wonder what aspect of my life I will look back on and think, as so many of her characters did in her mysteries, Had I But Known…..

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Mother-Daughter Book Club

Confession: I WISH I had done this with my daughter and our friends. (I always had to sneak a look at what the girls were reading.) So I was really happy when Nina invited me to join the first meeting of their Mother-Daughter Book Club. They live in North Carolina so I spoke with them via Skype. No double stuffed Oreos for me! But I did get to see their smiles. They were so inspirational, I invited them to talk about their club on my blog.  

The girls are holding objects from the novel, including Double-stuffed Oreos and a bear!
Nina had particular reasons for starting the club. As she wrote in the invitation, "The tweener time can be challenging as girls face a lot of pressure from the outside world about how to look and how to 'be.'" To counteract that, she wanted to bring together "a group of peers and their moms to talk about characters that show inner strength in interesting ways." 

Nina had read Shireen Dodson’s book:  The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh, and Learn Through Their Love of Reading.  (More info here. ) She particularly wanted female authors writing about female characters because that encourages the girls to say "yes I have a mind and it's worth exploring my thoughts."

Here are some answers to questions I had for the moms and the girls. (My apologies for shortening their answers. They all had so many great thoughts!)

What inspired you to be part of the club?

"I tried to start a group with my friends before, and so I was eager to be part of this one. I really liked the discussion part, where we all asked questions. The double-stuff oreos were important. I recommend cookies if some one wants to do this."

"It was a great way to provide community and encouragement for the girls, and an opportunity for moms to be with their daughters in a unique way.  Daughters get to see their moms as peers discussing books and having fun, not as organizers or 'doers', etc....  or 'the person in charge'."   

"One-on-one time with my children has become so precious. My daughter absolutely adores reading, so this was a perfect avenue for us to bond. I try to push her to think outside the box with my questions. The material opens up conversation about friends, tween years, growing up, relationship changes, body image, etc."

Did you learn anything surprising about each other from your discussion about the book?  

"That the moms are all emotional weirdos because they cried at the end of the book. We couldn't relate to why they cried. We thought it was a pretty funny book."

The moms tried to explain their tears. 

"It was empathizing with Megan's mom and what she must have been going through."
"Megan had 'evolved' so much and that she chose to call her mom (to do the right thing/as opposed to calling her friend)."  
"Because of the forgiveness factor there at the end--between Lucy and Megan. Because she knew how hard it was to say sorry."
"I felt the exact same way Megan did--as an adult--when she went in to talk to Alison the
first time after she had found out she was sick. I did not know what to say, etc...  I could totally relate to what she was feeling."

What kinds of books are good for a group like this?

"Well our theme is kind of feminine heroes--and that seems to work really well, because I think we can relate better to girls rather than guy heroes.  Not heroes--like with super powers--I mean girls as main characters."

"So there you have it--a powerful book all around!  One that brought both laughter and tears to our eyes and hearts."  

Thank you, Nina, Mia, and all the book group members for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm so honored that you chose my book. I hope you keep the group going after the summer. Reading books is a great way to explore new ideas together. 

While I was Skyping with the club, Blackberry had to get in the act. 
One final thought--  

Nina was happy to read the passage when a monarch butterfly is inspirational to my character Megan.  A few years ago, after Nina had learned about the monarch population crash, she started a Monarch Rescue Organization. Her group partners with other organizations to restore the monarchs' habitats. It's so sad to me that when I wrote Nature Girl eight years ago, I had no idea that this was an area of concern. Please help however you can!