Sunday, March 11, 2018


A writer friend read a draft of one of my novels. She gave me lots of great feedback. In particular, she pointed to a scene in which the kids visit their friend and are greeted by a stay-at-home mom.

"I know you're writing the world we usually see," my friend said. "But why use stereotypical roles? Why not show a more diverse world? Then it can become the norm."

"Absolutely," I agreed. I felt chastened to be caught in conventional thinking.

So I changed the scene. I had the stay-at-home parent be a dad. I gave the mom an important, high salary job as a lawyer who is fighting for justice.

There was an unintended consequence. The mom never appeared in the book. She was at her law office. The dad got to be in a funny scene baking spinach brownies. This caused a whole new imbalance. What had I done?!?!

Obviously I could have conceived of a story in which the lawyer mom had a crucial role. But my intention had been to write about saving our planet! (Unfortunately, that was too big a job for a kid, so I changed the idea to saving the butterflies.) Did I have to worry about male-female role models too? Isn't this just a kids' book?

No, it isn't. Words have power. We feel validated when we connect with a character or situation we recognize. When we encounter the unfamiliar, we are enlarged.

Writing is a series of choices. The character does this or that, looks like this or that, and says this or that. The multitude of small decisions coalesce to make the book.

Which brings me to the question I'd been pondering even before my friend's suggestion. The world is beset by problems. So many injustices, so many crises, including those poor monarch butterflies. I'm just a writer. What can I do?

Pay attention. Be aware of the problems. Learn about them. Use facts whenever possible. That will lead to better writing.

Upend preconceived notions. Shun the stale and the trite. That's better writing.

Strive for balance. Not just among types of characters, but within them. Treat every character with respect. That's better writing.

Be honest. Kids see through our best attempts to guide them. They know damn well there's spinach in that brownie. Don't gloss over situations. Characters should change and grow. That's better writing.

One of the reasons I love what I do is that I can make a happy ending. I can't cure cancer or end poverty. But I can make bold heroes who happen to be girls. I can make friendships exist where they usually don't. I can make sensitive dads and brothers. I can make wise women give just the right amount of encouragement and advice.

I can write the change I want to see in the world.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


STEP ONE:  Invite her to your school.

When educators make time for an author visit, they send a strong signal that books are important. Last spring, Mrs. Stacia Kohlstedt asked if I would visit St. Mary's School in Richland Center, Wisconsin. I happily agreed. Meeting young readers always inspires me and reminds me why I do what I do.

STEP TWO:  Read her book prior to the visit.

All of the grades read my books. The students had excellent questions and comments about what they had read. The seventh graders did an entire study on Nature Girl. Their illustrated reports lined the hallway.

I was really impressed by their analysis of character, plot, and setting.

I loved seeing Trail Blaze Betty get the credit she deserves for guiding Megan's journey. (Look--there's her famous hat!)

STEP THREE:  Let her discuss topics she's passionate about.


Fiction is a powerful tool that enables us to view the world from someone else's perspective. In my books, I've been a boy with too much imagination, an African gray parrot, and a snotty girl who is transformed by hiking. In other people's books, I've been a runaway slave, a soldier, and a Syrian refugee. Whether you're a reader, a writer, or both, your life will be enriched by being inside someone who is different from you. 

STEP FOUR:  Invite her to lunch with a few of your students.

Pizza! Kids! Conversation about school and books and butterflies. St. Mary's is passionate about saving monarchs--which happens to be the theme for a book I'm currently writing.

Thank you, Mrs. Stacia Kohlstedt, St. Mary's teachers and students for a wonderful day, for sharing your ideas--and for helping me write my next book.

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!