Monthly Archives: January 2015


A blogger who wrote an otherwise  happy review of Moonpenny Island had a somewhat unusual complaint. She said that the point of view so completely belonged to my main character Flor that she’d forget the book wasn’t written in first person. Then when Flor would be referred to in third person, this reader would be surprised and annoyed.

This is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. Sometime after  I wrote What Happened on Fox Street, my editor, who knows the book as well as I do, said how perfectly it worked in first person. Huh? “Wait,” she said. “For a second there I forgot!” Once again, it seems, my close third point of view was so close that it felt like an “I” speaking.

And the blogger’s comment is also interesting because one of the many, many, too many iterations of Moonpenny was written in first person. That was back when Flor O’Dell was a big-eared boy named Larry Walnut (still have a soft spot in my heart for  him).  My editor and I agreed that voice didn’t work. Maybe because I’m not good at writing boys (but I don’t really think so). Maybe because the story still hadn’t gelled (possible).

But maybe because first person is not a natural fit for me. It feels like spandex, which I hate.  It feels like wearing a hat that comes down over your ears, which I really hate.  And–this will sound weird but anyway–it feels too egotistical. I know I know! Many first person narrators are humble, self-deprecating types.  Some authors choose first person precisely because their main character is an interior type. Or because the character is unreliable, adding to the story’s complexity. All good. Right now I’m reading A.S. Byatt’s terrific  “Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future” which, like most of Byatt’s writing, is etched in the acidic, heart-breaking voice of the protagonist.

But a big reason I write is to look around. To see what’s close up but also what’s beyond, including what’s  not visible to my narrator. Sense of place is so important to me, and I find I can’t render that the way I want when it’s only seen through one pair of eyes. So even as I stay close close close, and even as the story’s voice officially belongs to one person alone, I cheat. I describe things she might not. I sneak in observations that are mostly hers but also a little bit Author. I wear loose, comfortable clothes and no hat.

Not to say I won’t ever try first person again. Every book is different, and each time I start, I have to learn how to write this one, this story.  For now I’ll tell myself that the blogger’s complaint is a sort of upside down compliment. She felt so close to Flor she didn’t like stepping back, and that’s the symbiosis I love in fiction.


You have to understand–for me, “pinned” has always meant you were engaged to be engaged (those of you under 40, never mind!)

But determined as I am not to become obsolete, I now know it means you have a virtual bulletin board pinned with lots of cool (we hope) stuff. So if you’re so moved, you can now check out me, my books and various related photos and links at

Pinning up this and that is pretty fun. But last week I had a meeting with my beloved editor. She likes the first draft of my new novel. I mean, she likes it! So no more fun. It’s time to get back to work. Into the Cave of Revision I go…

Here we go…

…into a bright new year. MOONPENNY ISLAND publishes in one month, two days (not that anyone is counting) and I’m tickled at some of the company it will keep. Here are three more middle grade novels I’m really looking forward to this winter/spring.

A debut that promises to be both hilarious and unique:

And the final books in two series about sisters, one of my own favorite topics. Very different from one another, both superb:


Another book that came out at the very end of last year and that I’m now enjoying immensely is

It’s written for younger writers, but brims with observations and advice for all of us.  A typically pithy bit, on how to write an effective villain:  “If our villain hates the world with one exception, our main character, the reader will discount the world.”

And I’m finally getting the chance to dip into this treasure box:

I could spend forever quoting the little-known fun facts these guys have turned up, including how Sendak’s illustrations for an edition of “The Hobbit” were nixed by Tolkein himself, how in order to do the illustrations for “Make Way for Ducklings”  McCloskey  kept 16 ducks in his Greenwich Village apartment and fed them red wine so they’d be easier to sketch, and the possibility that Pa of “The Little House” books once took part in a vigilante killing. Wild indeed! It’s more than just juicy bits, though–see the chapters on censorship, and publishing BP and AP (before and after Harry Potter).

Onward upward and sideways too!


(the temperature here in Cleveland today is 19, and this looks sooooo good)

Just a little over a month till “Moonpenny Island” publishes! If it’s true, and I believe it is, that no one of us is an island, that goes extra for me. So many wonderful books have been set on islands–places apart, places that can foster security or danger in equal measure–and I had great fun paying tribute to some favs in my own pages.

**My main character Flor’s last name is O’Dell (for “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, by Scott O’Dell)

**Her crush is Joe Hawkins (for Jim Hawkins, in “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson)

**Flor pretends her bike is a wild horse named Misty (of course for “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry)

**Her teacher assigns her  “Anne of Avonlea”, which Flor has already read and loves (the inimitable “Anne of Green Gables” books, by Lucy Maude Montgomery)

**That teacher just happens to be named Mrs. Defoe (for Daniel, author of “Robinson Crusoe”)

What are your favorite island books? January is such a good month for daydreaming…