At last!

The announcement I have been waiting to share.

This book skews a bit older than my other middle grade novels, exciting new territory for me. The story raises lots of ethical questions which I hope kids will passionately debate. I am still revising, trying to cut down my word count (I am such a blabbermouth) without taking away from the characters’ or the plot’s nuances.

2025 is a looooooong time away, but I know it will be worth the wait. Feeling very lucky to be able to share yet another book with my readers!

Holding my breath…

It’s a new year! And I’ve celebrated by sending a new thing out into the world–or, at least, as far as my editor’s desk. Finishing it was exhilarating but also, of course, sad, the way the end of any experience you’ve loved is sad.

But we have to let go and take these plunges in life. And while I wait for a response, I’ll hold my breath but also try to kick and paddle forward. And that, dear reader, is as far as I can go with this metaphor!

Happy new year! May you meet its challenges and find joy!

End of a year, beginning of a journey…

TRUE and I have been out in the real world, visiting book festivals, book stores and libraries in real life. I had two books come out during the pandemic, so you can guess how exhilarated I am to be among my readers again.

And…it’s so much fun to talk about TRUE. Writers are supposed to have “elevator pitches” for our books–a synopsis we could give someone in the time it takes to ride from one floor to the next. But I have never been any good at that. When asked, “So, what is your book about?”, I’ve always wanted to reply, “Do you have twenty minutes?” My books always seem so complicated!

TRUE is different. It’s got (I hope) some important themes and resonance, but the plot itself is easy to summarize: two very different kids who live in the same small, struggling town team up to save a dog that’s being abused.

Reader, if you know me at all, you know there is a happy, hopeful ending! In a starred review, The Horn Book called it “Because of Winn-Dixie for a new generation.” Publishers Weekly also compared it to Winn-Dixie, probably one of the most most beloved books of the last two decades.

As TRUE begins its journey into the wide world, I hope you’ll find it in your library or indie bookstore. Please let me know what you think of it!

Dream Camp

Tonight I’m going to Reading Camp. Not as a camper, obviously, but as a happy visitor who will talk about how, for me, being a reader came waaaaay before being a writer, but how, now, I can’t possibly separate these two essential parts of my life. I won’t talk too much though (I hope), as the main business will be helping kids create fictional characters and maybe even starting to write their stories.

I never went to camp as a kid. Also, I never met a real live writer. For a long time, I’m not sure I even knew there were such things as writers. For me, books were so real, so alive, I didn’t think of them as being made. They just were, the way the clouds and the ocean and my baby sister were.

Sometimes I wonder, if I’d met a writer when I was nine or ten, and if I’d realized she was just a regular person who drank chocolate milk and rode a bike and sometimes burned her toast–would I have realized that I could become one too? Would I have had that aha moment that came twenty years later, when I first tried to tell my own stories in my own words?

Who knows? What’s for sure is tonight I’ll be going to the camp I wish I’d had as a child, and I will try to make the experience as magical and generative as I can. I’m also, of course, hoping for s-mores!

Back to (real) school

I can see my grass for the first time in weeks! The snow is melting, the mud is oozing, the robins are singing, the dreaded standardized testing will soon be over–it must be time for spring school visits.

This year, for the first time in forever (my granddaughter’s favorite Frozen song), I’ll be visiting schools in person again. If anything fills me with hope and joy, this is it.

There’ll be actual real live people/ It’ll be totally strange/But wow am I so ready for this change!

No offense to Zoom, to whom (!) we all owe so much, but nothing compares with the chemistry of actually being together, sharing, brainstorming, laughing. Kids sidle up to me with secret confidences. I get to admire the hallway art. Something unplanned and unscripted always happens, and it’s often the most memorable (for better or worse) moment of the day.

For the first time in forever/There’ll be magic/There’ll be fun!

Bring on the snowdrops and daffodils! After way too long, bring on the real, live visits!

Anyone who knows me…

…knows that I am the sworn enemy of white tail deer. Each summer I spend crazy amounts of money for foul-smelling stuff that I spray on my lilies, hostas, roses, dahlias (actually I gave up on dahliahs) and increasingly on plants that used to make the deer turn up their little dark noses. Zinnias–if they begin to like zinnias, it’s all over.

But now that it’s January and the ground is buried beneath half a foot of snow, I see them in the yard and have to wonder what they are living on. I watch them paw up the snow and nibble, arc their necks and nibble, but can they possibly get enough? And aren’t they freezing? I read that they can slow their metabolisms, and that they have special muscles in their skin that let them angle their hair shafts to best advantage (say what??) But still. The other morning, before I’d had my coffee or found my glasses, I looked out and briefly wondered, How did that lovely big rock get in my garden? How sleek they make themselves, legs tucked under, heads resting on their backs. When they get up, they leave an oval hollow, just the right size for a grandchild to curl up in and pretend to be a sleeping bear.

I’ll resume my war come spring, but for now, the deer and I are both just doing our best to get through this cold, worrisome winter.

Helping me this week: the couch, the comforter, these books: Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin; Lost & Found, by Kathryn Schulz; Amber and Clay, by Lauren Amy Schulz; Middlemarch, by George Eliot. A sip of red wine helps, too.

Something new…

Yesterday I finished the copy edits and hit SEND on my new middle grade novel, coming this November with Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House. LOOKING FOR TRUE is my first book with a boy main character, and my first time writing from alternating points of view (I sort of did it in EVERY SINGLE SECOND, but one of the characters was a graveyard monument, so I’m not sure that counts).

Changes will still be made (I revise books up till the absolute last moment) but TRUE has its own autonomy now. It lives and breathes, a story that feels inevitable and whole. Gladys and Jude no longer live just inside my head or under my tapping fingers. They still need me, but they don’t act as if they do. Anyone who’s raised children and sent them out into the world will know how complicated my feelings are!

The world brims with sorrow and uncertainty. Our family is recovering from two members having Covid–relatively mild cases but serious enough. I’ve got three grandbabies too young to be vaccinated, and every day feels like taking a chance and hoping for the best.

Something New. What a privilege, what a necessity, to keep creating.

2022

I’ve never been good at New year’s stuff. I hate all the looking back, the year in photographs or quotes or cartoons, the best-of-lists (except of course when one of my books is listed–can you say hypocrite?).

And it’s been several decades since I made resolutions, which have come to seem horribly self-conscious and even silly. When there’s something in my life I want or need to change, I already know it in my bones–there’s no need to commit the desire to paper.

Maybe I feel all this even more strongly than usual, since it has been such a shapeless, blighted, holey-old-sweater of a year, and since 2022 could easily be written ???? What can we predict? Next to nothing.

Except this—the world’s children will continue to grow and question, bloom and seek, cry and laugh, stumble yet scramble up again. And I will keep on writing for them, writing the best books I can summon up from all I’ve learned of life and all I hope will come. Some of my favorite lines in The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe come near the end, as Loah (oh how I love Loah!) drifts off to sleep listening to the northern mocking bird sing outsider her window. “Opening her eyes for a moment, she saw a single moonbeam, white as a snow goose feather, tumble over the lovely dark wall of trees. The world was big and the world was small and that was the mystery of it. The mystery and the wonder and …The mockingbird sang Loah off to sleep.”

Our new year is here– the reminiscing and resolving can giving way to the business of getting up, greeting the day, getting to the work. Wishing you a year full of mystery and wonder!