Monthly Archives: May 2014


Blog tour, that is.

My friend Kris Ohlson asked if I’d join a tour of writers posting thoughts about their work and process. Because writing is for the most part a solitary pursuit, I’m happy to jump on the bus and ride along.  

A word about Kris: I’ve known her forever, as both a generous friend and favorite writer. She’s the only person I know who makes her living entirely through writing–anyone who’s ever tried can attest what grit, wit, and sheer brainpower that requires.  Her newest book is the non-fiction “The Soil Will Save Us”, and it brims with revelations about the ground beneath our feet and optimism for our beleagured planet. Read it, pass it on. As Kris urges, “Be a hero of the underground!”

And now for The Questions.

What am I working on?  Happily, a three part answer! I’m almost finished with edits for two books that will publish next year, and I’m working on a new one.

“Moonpenny Island” is a middle grade novel coming out with Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins. It’s the story of Flor, whose mother and best friend have both left their tiny, rocky island. Flor’s determined not to lose anyone else–and that means her big sister, who she’s sure is keeping a dangerous secret. There’s also a lot about fossils and Charles Darwin and a treacherous, bottomless swim hole.  

Up till a few days ago, I could’ve told you the title of my new chapter book, but suddenly it’s up for grabs. It’s sure to have “Cody” in it, though.  Cody adores ants, her genius brother Wyatt, and her scaredy cat new friend Spencer. She also loves to help, with mixed results. This is the first in a series (yay!) and wait till you see the tender yet hilarious illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick is publishing this one, o frabjous day! 

I’m finishing (please please please) a first draft of my new middle grade novel, tentatively titled “Just a Second”. This book is a shade darker than anything I’ve published before, and each day when I finish and go for my walk, I feel pretty roiled up inside. Because I’m always scared to jinx myself by talking about things too soon, I’ll just say it’s a story about a girl who hates to choose but is finally forced to.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?  I’m not sure how to answer that. I like to think mine’s another voice in the wonderful chorus of children’s writers singing their hearts out today.  Kids need different books at different times in their lives. My books are quiet. I hope they make readers feel comforted and un-alone, but also more courageous.

Why do I write what I do?  Oh, who knows!

How does my writing process work? I’m tempted to say: see above, but I hate to be branded a shirker.

My work often starts with a place–an island, a dead end street, some little enclave. Setting tends to dictate my plots,  my characters’ choices or lack of choices. Usually I make a lot of notes on the physical place, and on my characters’ habits, likes and dislikes. Lines start to form in my head, and I write them down too, but at some point it all brims and tips and I can’t resist beginning the actual book, even though I still don’t know nearly enough. Thus: a million drafts, a million revises. Wreckage, despair. Light on the horizon. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I guess for me a good question would be: why do you keep writing? And the answer would be simple: I need to make life complicated.  

I now hereby tag the terrific fiction and essay writer Laura Walter. Laura has an award winning collection of stories, “Living Arrangements”, and her work has appeared in the best literary journals, including most recently The Sun. She’s working on her MFA and I am very, very lucky to be a member of her  writing group.  Bonus: her blog is as witty, deft and inventive as her fiction.

Counting down…

I know it’s premature–but this is the kind of bubble-over anticipation I felt in the schools I visited last week. 

First I was in Kansas kindergartens, thanks to a click of my ruby-red-slippers, otherwise known as Skype. A couple of days later I was at a local  school assembly celebrating writing. I was honored to read aloud  first graders’ poems–one about worms (squirm squirm) and the other about birds.  That gave me the chance to talk about how poems  sometimes make us notice what is right beneath our feet, and sometimes tilt our heads, throw wide our arms, and embrace life in all its expansiveness. Luckily I got to give my little speech before the thrid graders got up to sing, because after that I was too verklempt for anything.

Saturday I detoured from school visits to Indie Storytime Day at the Learned Owl, one of our treasured local bookstores. My plan was to read that masterpiece, “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”, but my audience turned out to be so young, I couldn’t inflict the dark angst of Sylvester as a snow-covered rock with a lone wolf howling on his back (Ingmar Bergman, you got nothing by comparison!) So we read the adorable “Please Bring Balloons” by my friend Lindsay Ward, and also had some intense conversation about fairies.

Later that day, it was teens. Besides giving my workshop on setting and sense of place, I had the privilege of a long, wonderful conversation with a fifteen year old deep into her first novel. We talked about setting, plot, character motivation, and I was able to give some (I hope) usable advice.

What she gave me was this: she told me she’s writing the story because she can’t find enough books where she recognizes herself. She is African American, middle class, questioning her sexual orientation, future career, whether she can really make a difference and find happiness in this big, indifferent world. She doesn’t want to read any more stories about the historic black struggle, or future dystopias: she wants to find herself now, heart and soul, on the page. This is exactly what adolescent me always sought. She’s going to finish her novel this summer–summer!! 

So for me it was a week of being an author. I tend to think of author as the past tense of writer. An author is one who has written. (I do love how close it is to the word authority!) This week, inspired, revved up, I’m back to present tense. I’m a writer.

Close up

Years ago when I started writing this journal, I vowed to only write about writing. Far too many others catalogued what they cooked or bought,  what their cat or kid or boyfriend did, how much they loved/hated their jobs or hair or weekend.  I didn’t want to join the chorus–partly because I’m a snob and partly because I was afraid I’d be too boring.

I’ve stuck to that resolution pretty faithfully, but today I can’t help sharing two up-close and personal things. One is the card, above and below, that my middle girl Phoebe made me for Mother’s Day. My father always taught his kids, and I tried to teach mine, that Handmade Is  Best. Look no further for proof. In “What Happened on Fox Street”, Dottie sometimes breaks out into The Dance of Joy, and that’s what I’m calling this drawing, which will live forever here on my desk.

Two is that my oldest daughter, Zoe, found her wedding dress last weekend. She is not a shopper (direct descendant) and was threatening to buy it sight unseen on-line. Phoebe and Baby Delia boarded a bus to Boston and took her in hand. They phoned me from the shop where The Dress  was found. Many e-mailed photos, some discussion but mostly aahs and oohs later, and the decision was unanimous.  I’d have loved being there with them, but on the other hand, it gives me immeasurable pleasure that the three of them did this on their own, together. Sister Power! The first thing I did afterwards was tell my own two sisters all about it.

This week…

…a phenomenal groundswell of readers, writers, booksellers and librarians turned into a three day campaign called We Need Diverse  Books. If you head over to, you can share in some of the heartfelt, moving and funny messages posted by hundreds of people of all ages. One day people posted photos, the next there was a massive twitter outpour–#WeNeedDiverseBooks–and the third, people were urged to vote with their feet and buy some books! It was social media at its finest, and let’s hope the messages continue to resonate. My tiny contribution to all this : “We need diverse books because a big reason we read (and write) is to know we’re not alone.”

And this week my essay on cooking and eating with old friends came out in Cleveland Magazine

And this week I planted my first rose bush ever. I’ve always been daunted by how much care they take, but this one’s tag  claimed “If you can dig a hole, you can plant a rose.” Yes, I notice it does not say you can actually make it grow and thrive, but I bit. What do you want to bet my yard will soon look like this:

 Happy new week to all.