Monday, December 13, 2010


Alisa Libby is the author of two phenomenal historical fiction novels entitled, THE KING’S ROSE and THE BLOOD CONFESSION. She is also an expert researcher!

I first met Alisa Libby at the New England SCBWI conference in Nashua, New Hampshire in 2009. I had signed up for her workshop because I thought it would help me with an idea I had been/am banging around in my head; her class was on researching history/events in order to write a historical fiction novel. The class was about weaving in those details—making the facts feel integral to the story rather than merely dropped in.

Alisa is a great presenter! (She says that she’s nervous, but no one else would know it!) And MAN! Does this girl know her stuff! She is an incredible researcher—the scope of it is amazing while the details of it are…well, just as amazing!

Alisa inspired me that day, so I bought both of her books; I have a teenage daughter that *loves* historical fiction. She devoured both of Alisa’s books immediately and has since deemed them hers—not mine! So, because of that meeting a year and a half ago, and my daughter’s enthusiasm for her books, I asked Alisa if she would be kind enough to contribute something for Mentor Monday. She said, “Yes!”

Here is Alisa:

I would love to share with you a blurb about my mentor for your blog! Without further ado, here you go:

My Dad was an artist. We were always involved in some project: playing musical instruments, building model airplanes, catching fruit flies and putting them on slides for my microscope. Most of all, we talked about the creative process: the frequent frustration punctuated by moments of elation. My father carved the head of a cat out of a block of stone, a herd of horses from a block of wood. He created a model violin so small you could fit it in your pocket. I watched all of this in astonishment – a miracle of art and creation taking place in my very own home. He read all of my stories and poems and offered advice and critique. We commiserated over the difficulties of getting the beautiful images in our heads to translate onto the page (or wood, or stone, or canvas). He had a wonderful ability to find humor in the midst of these trials, and he taught me to be excited about the creative process itself – the actual act of sitting down and writing – instead of focusing solely on the final product. My father died over 12 years ago, but I still carry these lessons with me. I often think of him in moments of frustration, inspiration, and elation.

Many thanks,
Thank YOU, Alisa!

Monday, December 6, 2010


A *big* Mentor Monday welcome to the multi-talented Liz Goulet Dubois! She an author/illustrator, a master blogger, and toy designer. She writes plays, directs them, and does incredible stage sets for them. She is also into product licensing and takes part in writing a group blog entitled The Licensing Nook (and website) about the ins and outs of the business, as well as some just really cool stuff! If that weren’t enough, have you ever seen those hilarious FRED products? Liz designs a number of their over-the-top fun stuff! She does it ALL, I tell you! And she does it all well!

Liz's writing and art work focus mostly on younger children. She is an award winning illustrator from Highlights Magazine and has iillustrated several pre-school books. She has written some as well and does the paper engineering for her pop-up books. Her Fred Products seem to turn up in Rachel Ray's magazine (as well as others) a lot! Liz seems to have creative toes in all kinds of ponds. (But she would never write as weird of a sentence as that last one!)

I first met Liz at the annual SCBWI Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat in Rhode Island. I took to her immediately, and we have since become great friends. I have a ton of respect for her. She is the real deal—professionally and in ways that matter even more. I could say that Liz has been a mentor to me in learning the ways of the business of children’s lit; once I got serious about publication, I listened carefully to her nuggets of wisdom—the dos and don’ts of navigating the pubbing world. This very website/blog is here because she...uh...suggested...I put it up. She is honest and forthright but always thoughtful and kind. And, let me tell you, she is just chock full of wisdom. Finally, Liz is a good friend—the best! I feel blessed to know her! Truly, I do.

Okay. Enough gushing from me! Without further ado, here is Liz Goulet Dubois’s Mentor Monday submission:

Mentor Submission
By Liz Goulet Dubois

Without question, my first and best mentor was my mom. I don't remember a time when I wasn't encouraged to try anything artistic. I always had ideas on things to make, sew, paint, build, etc. and she always gave me the supplies and pointed me in the right direction for getting started. Just as important, I think, was her ability to step back and let me figure things out for myself. That's a very subtle quality- the ability to NOT help too much!

In junior high and high school, my art teacher was Brother Marty. I was able to sail through most of the usual required lessons, and he was the one who let me go to the next level by devising different kinds of art for me to do.

By senior year, I was already painting on canvas and writing and illustrating my own books, and it was these extra things that likely got me into RISD, the one place I really wanted to go. In college, I had two teachers who were very supportive and also allowed me to pursue my own vision in art. David Niles, one of my illustration teachers, and Amy Kravitz, my animation teacher, were both instrumental in allowing me to develop my own style of art. They were instructors that could tell intuitively when to help, but also allowed the space to allow for blooming.

Thanks SO much Liz! It was a pleasure to have you here at Mentor Mondays!

Monday, November 15, 2010


A big Mentor Monday welcome to Cynthia Levinson! She is a fabulous non-fiction writer, having authored piles of fascinating articles and a book coming out from Peachtree in 2012 entitled, WE HAVE A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH.

I first heard an excerpt from this book about 18 months ago and was drawn in immediately. When I was young, non-fiction books merely spewed facts, but Cynthia’s writing is filled with character development, intrigue, action, and fascinating details. Actually, so is Cynthia! ;-)

Here’s a taste:


Eight-year-old Audrey woke up Thursday morning with freedom on her mind. But, before she could be free, she knew she had to go to jail.

“I want to go to jail,” Audrey told her mother.

“OK,” her mother answered.

She asked her parents to buy her a game she’d been eyeing. She figured that Operation, in which you take the bones out of a plastic figure and put them back together, would entertain her in case she got bored during her week on a cellblock.

Her mother thought it would be polite for her to tell Miss Wills, her third-grade teacher at Center Street Elementary, that she’d be absent. Miss Wills cried.
“I think she was proud of me,” Audrey said.

She also hugged all four grandparents goodbye.

One of her grandmothers assured her, “You’ll be fine.”

Then, Audrey’s mother drove her to church so she could be arrested.
Wait a minute! What kind of eight-year-old volunteers to go to jail? And, what kind of mother says, “OK” and makes sure she gets there? And, why would she get arrested at church?

Is this real?

Yes. Audrey Faye Hendricks and her mother, Lola, are real. So is this story.

Audrey was one of the youngest of about 4,000 black children who marched, protested, sang, and prayed their way to jail during the first week of May 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. Their goal was to end segregation in the most racially separated and violent city in America. Many young people suffered attacks by snarling German shepherds and days of being crammed into sweltering sweatboxes. Some wondered if they would survive. And, if they did, could they accept these punishments with dignity, as they had been taught? Or, would they retaliate against the white policemen who were abusing them?

Audrey and three other young people—Washington Booker III, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter—will be your guides through these harrowing events. Along the way, you’ll hear from others as well.

I knew that Cynthia’s agent, Erin Murphy, was shopping this ms around and I was so hoping that it would sell! When I got word that it did, I danced in my office to a blaring SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED, I’M YOURS (my official book contract celebratory song! Go ahead and click it. You know you want to. Do it.)

I know that WE HAVE A JOB will be the first of many books that lucky children everywhere will read from Cynthia!

Here is Cynthia’s Mentor Story:

I didn’t know that Mary Jane was mentoring me until it was too late. Had I known, I would have inhaled every comment and suggestion she made in our critique group. Even her silences, head cocked, were tactfully telling. But, it’s only in retrospect that I realized how honored I should have felt to get guidance from Mary Jane Hopkins before she abruptly died.

It was Mary Jane, who, looking at my tediously over-long and expository manuscripts, suggested I switch from writing fiction to nonfiction. Finding that niche on my own took me another five years, at least 30 rejections of inept fiction, and an exasperated dismissal by a famous writer of my amateurish novel at an expensive weeklong retreat.

While I stubbornly insisted I was going to write picture books, she urged me to write for the magazine market. She was right about that, too, though I didn’t realize it until years later when a famous editor scribbled all over the first chapter of that very same novel at another expensive weeklong retreat.

Along the way, Mary Jane patiently helped me pare words, hone the story, find a rhythm. It’s only because of her that I finally sold two stories—to magazines, of course. The effusiveness of her congratulations masked her own role in these successes. Still, my own blinkered, I-can-do-it-myself attitude meant that one story had to be heavily edited, and the other was never printed.

Just before she suffered the stroke, she had been working on a beautifully crafted novel about a boy whose parents were divorcing and another who was entering the adoption system. Every chapter tightened the emotional grip of the one before. We were nearly as devastated to lose the progress of her story as we were to lose Mary Jane. When her husband asked our critique group to finish the novel, we sorrowfully explained that the distinctive voice, the clean writing, and the characters we looked forward to visiting with every week were hers alone. Mary Jane’s daughter, who inherited her mother’s writing genes, found a page of notes and questions her mother had kept. Question #10, I believe, was “How does it end?”

My writing—almost all nonfiction and, thanks to success in the magazine market, finally branching out to a trade book—would find its flow and reach its end so much more effectively if I could still hear Mary Jane. Fortunately, she taught me, posthumously, to listen, which I do, avidly, to my later mentors, whose advice I embrace.

Thank you, Cynthia! Very touching and a good message for us all!

Here is another song--a beautiful tribute.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Welcome to Printz Honor Winning author, Ellen Wittlinger! Such a pleasure to have her here!

Ellen is the author of 14 books for young readers. Her third book, HARD LOVE, was a Printz Honor Book (among many accolades it received!). This is such a poignant book—and one of my faves!

Her newest book is entitled, THIS MEANS WAR, a terrific story set in the 1960's.
From Booklist:
Wittlinger latches on to a poignant metaphor for war in this lively and readable tale set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Fifth-grader Juliet lives near a growing military base, which has brought in an influx of new kids, including the rowdy Patsy. It’s a good thing, too, because Juliet’s longtime pal Lowell has abandoned her to hang out with boys, including the overgrown bully, Bruce. This division turns into an all-out battle of the sexes when Bruce devises a nine-day competition that tests the strength and bravery of girls versus boys. These increasingly dangerous tests (entering a dog pen, shoplifting) bring most of the children closer together, though for Patsy and Bruce, they only escalate the conflict. It’s a clever concept that keeps the proceedings fun even as the darker drama of potential world collapse provides a weighty element; young readers will be shocked to learn of Juliet’s daily prayers, including “Dear God, please don’t let the world end today.” A warm way to introduce the cold war. Grades 5-8. --Daniel Kraus
See all Editorial Reviews

As Director of The Whispering Pines Retreat, I met Ellen when she was kind enough to attend as our author mentor. She was a wonderful addition to our faculty that year, as she was so knowledgeable but also kind, approachable, and generous with her time and wisdom. She gave thoughtful, thorough critiques to our writers that year and also gave a terrific presentation on writing humor, which I continue to refer back to even today. By the end of the weekend, I felt very fortunate, that I had made a friend in Ellen, and that makes me lucky indeed!

Here is Ellen Wittlinger:

My Mentors
By Ellen Wittlinger

There are many people who helped me along my crooked path to becoming a writer, but four in particular I’ll never forget. I was an art major in college, partly because I was a slow reader and I wasn’t sure I could get through all the Milton and Chaucer that English majors had to read. But I was writing all the time anyway, and in my senior year I took a poetry course from a young faculty member by the name of Kelly Yenser. Both Kelly and his wife Pamela were poets (and still are,) and they encouraged me to follow that dream too. They were sympathetic readers of my early work, they put books into my hands I hadn’t known to read, and they convinced me to apply to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for graduate school. I would not be a published author today without their example and support.

I wish I could say my years at the Iowa Workshop were also full of wonderful mentors, but they were not. I had a few good teachers, but the classes were large and I was not one of the stars. In those years I worked hard mainly to show those guys (and they were mostly guys) that I was worthy of being there too.

After grad school I was incredibly lucky to get a fellowship to write at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts--a living space and a stipend for seven months and nothing to do but live in one of the most beautiful spots on earth and write. In fact, I got a second year fellowship there too and ended up living on Cape Cod for three years. During that time the person who made the biggest impact on my life was a wonderful poet by the name of Alan Dugan. Dugan (as everyone called him) was a big, rough-voiced, heavy-drinking guy who’d won a Pulitzer Prize before I met him, and went on to win a National Book Award. I was a bit cowed by him, to say the least. But during my first week at the Center Dugan called all ten writing fellows together for an informal chat during which he repeatedly referred to us as his “colleagues.” He always, from then on, treated each of us as an equal, as people whose writing must be taken seriously. Which is when I really began to take myself seriously as a writer. If Dugan believed in me, it must be true.

During my third year in Provincetown, another well-known author became involved with the Work Center, the wonderful short-story writer Grace Paley. Another tough cookie on the outside, Grace was incredibly generous to all of us younger writers, reading draft after draft of the same story and giving honest feedback. I still have a message pinned to the corkboard in my office which has been around since Grace first said it to me: “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” She was right.

I am a writer today because of the generosity and support of these four people. Since I’ve become part of the children’s writing community, finding helpful people is less unusual than it was when I was in the (so-called) adult writing world. In that harsher climate, these folks were my saviors, and I thank them for it.

Thanks a ton, Ellen! So grateful to have had you visit MENTOR MONDAYS! ;-)

Monday, November 1, 2010


Welcome to Laura Toffler-Corrie! Thrilled to have her here on Mentor Mondays!

Laura is the author of the hilarious, THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ, a character being called, “The Tina Fey” of middle grade readers. I highly recommend you pick up the book and put a sitting aside to get to know this hilarious, quirky girl!

From Booklist:

It can’t get any worse for Amy Finawitz. Her best friend, Callie, has abandoned their life in New York City to stay with relatives in Kansas for the year, leaving Amy to cope with eighth grade alone. Thankfully—or not—God sends Amy a replacement friend in the form of Miss Sophia, the little old lady who lives down the hall. Miss Sophia hooks Amy into solving a decades old mystery left in a very old journal. The dynamic duo soon becomes a Terrific Triumvirate when Miss Sophia also asks her fifteen-year-old nephew, Beryl, a Lubavitch Jew, to join their little investigative team.

And if Amy thought her year couldn't get anymore random, she can add the following items to her list: Houdini’s grave, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, cross-dressing magicians, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, crochet circles, Abraham Lincoln, a raucous rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, and a secret treasure.

To get through it all, Amy's going to need a serious Chanukah miracle


Praise For The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz…

“Entertaining…genuinely funny…” –Publishers Weekly

"...value and sweetness."–Kirkus Reviews

Laura Toffler-Corrie


In my early twenties, I decided to return to graduate school and pursue a degree in Dramatic Writing at New York University. I was excited but also terrified. Did I have the courage to share my work? Did I have talent? Could I succeed? On the first day of class, cowered by my insecurities, I decided that the best approach was a cautious one. I would sit in the back of the room and say very little.

However, the professor, Lee Kalcheim, had other ideas. His class was going to be a full participation experience. We would spend the semester writing and sharing our work. At the end, we would mount our own one act play to be performed in front of an audience. When I heard that, it took everything I had not to run out the door and never look back.

Somehow, week after week, I screwed up the nerve to write and present new work and, week after week, Lee was supportive. He encouraged me to develop my writing voice, he laughed at the funny bits and offered supportive criticism when needed. He taught me about character and plot and dialogue. Through his gentle guidance and the supportive atmosphere he created in class, my work improved and my confidence bloomed. On the last day, I did indeed mount my own one act play, in a professional, black box theatre, in front of an audience; one of the most frightening, and exhilarating experiences of my life.

I believe that Lee’s support was instrumental in giving me the courage to pursue a career in writing, with all its attendant rejection and disappointments, and to achieve my dream of being a professional author.

As far as the author goes, she’s pretty hilarious and quirky, too! ;-) THANKS, so much, Laura, for gracing us with your presence here on Mentor Mondays!

Monday, October 25, 2010


A BIG welcome to Tamara Ellis Smith who is completely and utterly awesome!

I met Tam at Erin Murphy’s retreat out in Portland, Oregon a year and a half ago. I liked her immediately and more and more as the week went on. No question that she is a gifted writer but also a super great human being—wicked nice. The real deal. (and the BEST tattoos ever!) The only thing that I’d change about her is her geography—too far away for lunch dates!

Tam’s middle grade novel, MARBLE BOYS, won an Honorable Mention in the 2008 PEN New England Discovery Awards and was runner up for the 2008 SCBWI Works-In-Progress grant. I’ve heard an excerpt of this and it’s beautiful. Visual. I still have images from it in my head after all this time. I know in my heart of hearts that Erin, our over-the-top awesome agent, will find a lucky editor for it soon! And, I’ll be one of the first to celebrate!!!

Tam also has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College—a top program in the country! God! I can hardly get my socks mated! Clearly, this girl is in for BIG things! ;-)

Welcome, Tam!

Kathy Appelt

By Tamara Ellis Smith

Anyone who has been in a room with Kathi Appelt for more than a few minutes has probably heard her utter her famous words “Write like your fingers are on fire!” She lives this. She is passionate, full of energy, and the words that pour out of her heart and mind are piping, steaming hot!

I was lucky enough to have Kathi as my second semester advisor when I was a graduate student in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College for the Arts. At that point, I had been in school for one semester—long enough to know that this was exactly what I was meant to do with my life and that I had no idea how to do make it actually happen. It was a mucky, murky time. I was in it, for sure, but I was kicking up a lot of debris and I couldn’t see very clearly.

Kathi nurtured me that semester in so many different ways.

She nurtured my craft: I was working on a novel for the first time (I had only ever written picture books before that) and she gave me permission to finish a whole draft. She urged me to do it, asked me to let go and let it flow out of me. Feel what that felt like. She nurtured my soul: She created a real community from the five of us students who had her as an advisor that semester. She asked us to connect, to talk to each other, and support each other as we all dug deep to do our work. And she nurtured my heart: Kathi and I talked over email—probably over twenty hours all told—about the craft of writing…but also about raising children, managing writer’s block, and balancing family and work.

Craft. Soul. Heart. Kathi held and lifted each one of them.

She taught me how to embrace it all—to open my arms wide and gather it up, to weave it all together, to let it organically be what it wants to be. In essence, Kathi got me to stand still. To let all of the pieces touch me, and float around me, and finally settle to the ground. Like standing still in a stream, and allowing the mucky, murky water to settle until it is clear. This feels intuitively right to me, but I don’t think I would have trusted that way of being if Kathi hadn’t guided me there.

Kathi writes like her fingers are on fire, but I believe that she also writes—and lives—like this. By embracing it all, by staying quiet and still in the cool water, by weaving all of the pieces together. You can see it in her work. And you can feel it when she teaches.

I am eternally grateful that Kathi is in my life—my mentor, my moon sister, my friend.

Thanks SO much, Tam! We so much enjoyed hearing about this fantastic mentor of yours—none other than Kathi Appelt! I hope to meet her in person some time soon…

Monday, October 18, 2010


A BIG welcome to Ann Haywood Leal--the author of two MG books, entitled, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER and the recently released, FINDERS KEEPERS PLACE. I first met Ann at a class in Fairfield. I was immediately drawn to her warm personality, as well as her tremendous writing talent! And let me tell you--She's one darn funny lady, too!

I am grateful that she has taken the time to do a piece for Mentor Mondays. I hope you find it as touching as I did!

Ann Haywood Leal:

As far as mentors are concerned, I could name so many people. To me, a mentor not only passes on some of their wisdom and knowledge, but they also give you something extra that becomes a part of who you are.

The wonderful Patricia Reilly Giff is definitely someone who has done that for me (and for so many others!). Pat is so generous with her time and with her advice for new writers. Whether it's a celebration or just a problem about which I need to kvetch, Pat always has the time to listen. All the way back to when I was figuring out what a query letter was, Pat has always had time and patience for me.

And without a doubt, my mom filled the mentoring role in my life. Books and reading were always so important to her, and she shared them with me in such a way that made me love words, too. No matter how busy she was, she always stopped what she was doing and took the time to read my stories. I loved when she wrote comments in the margins! Sometimes now when I'm writing, I'll imagine what her comments would be. My deepest regret is that she died before she could see my first book on the shelf at the library.

When I had my book party at The Dinosaur's Paw Bookstore, I told Pat Giff how much I wished my mom could see it all. Pat said, "She knows, Ann. She knows."

Thanks so much, Ann! This was so touching and a wonderful addition to Mentor Mondays!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Welcome to the second installment of MENTOR MONDAYS!!

This week, we’ll hear from YA author, Conrad Wesselhoeft. I had the opportunity to hear a bit of his novel, ADIOS NIRVANA, while it was in the works. You want to talk about “voice?” This is it! I was pulled in immediately and have been looking forward to its release ever since.

The book sits here on my desk, but I’m afraid to open it. I have revisions of my own to do that are due to my editor. I’m afraid if I open Conrad’s book, I won’t be able to put it down! When my revisions are submitted, though, you know what I’ll be doing!


From Booklist:

In the wake of his twin brother’s death, Jonathan, a former star student, is facing the possibility of repeating his junior year. The only things standing between him and failure are his devoted best friends, an understanding principal named Gupti, and his English teacher. The assignments that will ensure his promotion? Attend class every day, help an 88-year-old WWII veteran write his memoir, and perform Gupti’s favorite song, “Crossing the River Styx,” at graduation. Wesselhoeft offers a psychologically complex debut that will intrigue heavy-metal aficionados and drama junkies alike. Peopled with the elderly and infirm, crazy parents, caring educators, and poignant teens trying desperately to overcome death’s pull, it mixes real and fictional musicians and historical events to create a moving picture of struggling adolescents and the adults who reach out with helping hands. Darker and more complex than Jordan Sonnenblick’s thematically similar Notes from the Midnight Driver (2006), Adios, Nirvana targets an audience of YAs who rarely see themselves in print. Grades 8-12. --Frances Bradburn

Indie Bound Description:

When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman?
No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.

In life. In death.

Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He's on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail.


Not only is Conrad a genius writer, but a super great guy as well. I’m thrilled that he has agreed to participate in my Mentor Mondays Series and look forward to seeing many more books from him down the road.

And away we go! Welcome, Conrad!

The Wisdom of Scott O’Dell
By Conrad Wesselhoeft

Scott O’Dell was my friend and mentor. That’s a tall statement considering that I met him only once. But that day changed my life.

I was a young staffer at the New York Times, harboring a secret ambition: to write novels. But how? Writing a novel seemed far out of my depth. However, writing a feature story about a novelist might be a stroke in the right direction. So I set up an interview, hopped a train at Grand Central, and headed north to Westchester County, New York.

Who was Scott O’Dell? Probably the most acclaimed young-adult author of his generation. He had written nearly two dozen books—including the classic “Island of the Blue Dolphins”—and garnered a barrel of prizes: the Newbery Medal (for “Dolphins”); three Newbery Honor Awards; and the Hans Christian Andersen Award for a body of work.

Scott greeted me at the station. Now 85, he looked time-chiseled and fit, with a shock of white hair, barrel chest, and deep tan. We climbed into his big car, and he peeled for his home on Long Pond. He seemed to enjoy speed.

The interview was supposed to last about two hours, but it filled the morning and lapped into the afternoon. We broke for a late lunch.

“Enough about me,” he said, over seafood chowder. “What about you? What do you want to do with your life?”

I stammered out the true contents of my gut: “I want to write novels.”“Well, then, write them.”

“But I don’t have time. I don’t know how.”

He planted a hand on the table and leaned close. His blue eyes sparked. “Now listen—listen!”

I did listen. Here’s what Scott O’Dell taught me:

Writing is about starting. Start simply, even if it amounts to no more than 15 minutes a day. Open an empty notebook and on page one write: “I want to write a book about . . .” Then write: “I want the main character to be . . .” It’s okay to write in fragments. It’s okay to use weak verbs. Just write. Spill all of your ideas into that notebook. On about day five, or seventeen, or fifty-five, something will happen. A light will turn on. You will see the way.

Writing is about finishing. He liked to quote Anthony Trollope, the English novelist: “The most important thing a writer should have is a piece of sticking plaster with which to fasten his pants to a chair.”

Writing is about reading. Soak up all the great books you can. He loved Willa Cather’s spare, lyrical prose style, singling out her novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”

Writing is humble. Let your forebears guide you. He followed Hemingway’s advice: Stop your day’s work at a point where you know what is going to happen next. That way, you’ll never get stuck.

Writing for young readers has a special reward. Scott told me that before he discovered young audiences, he had only a tentative commitment to the craft of writing. Now it was strong. “The only reason I write,” he said, “is to say something. I’ve forsaken adults because they’re not going to change, though they may try awfully hard. But children can and do change.”

Before driving me back to the train station, Scott took me out on his deck and pointed to a grove of trees across Long Pond. During the Revolutionary War, a teenage girl had sought refuge from the Redcoats in a cave hidden by the grove. For years, she had drawn on her wits and fortitude to survive. After learning this bit of local history, Scott had crafted one of his best novels, “Sarah Bishop.” His message was simple. Good stories are everywhere. You don’t have to look far. Open your eyes.

We corresponded for a few years, and he kindly critiqued my awkward early efforts at YA fiction. Years later, I read that he had been working on his last novel, “My Name is Not Angelica,” in his hospital bed, just days before his death at age 91.Scott taught me many things about writing, but one stands out—that writing is about perseverance.

Never give up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The LAUNCH of MENTOR MONDAYS! (And the crowd went wild!)


I am thrilled to announce the launch of my new series, MENTOR MONDAYS! Every Monday, I will post a piece by a professional in the wonderful world of kid lit (editors, agents, and authors) who have been kind enough to share their stories with me. I have been humbled by the generosity of these folks and am in awe of the list itself! Such incredibly accomplished, talented, and giving people. Without people like this—who share their talent and expertise, who advocate for children and good literature in a world that seems more and more about “screen time,” (She says, checking her Facebook! ;-) where would we be?

And, where would we be without mentors? The people who take us aboard and show us the ropes. Often, however, a mentor is dear friend as well. Someone who lights something inside you that you didn't know was there. Gives you the road map to where you're headed.

I had planned to start this series with an author, but decided that I should begin with the person that launched my career—officially, anyway!

My first post is from literary agent, Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I’ve had a few people tell me they’ve heard that she’s a “dream agent.” As her client, I’m here to tell you that the rumors are true.

I did a ridiculous amount of research on agents and, when I was done with my ranked list, she was at the top. I drove five hours one way to meet her at a big book signing by several of her clients. The first time I set my eyes on her, she was scooping ice cream for a bunch of kids. She had an easy smile and, as the day progressed, I could tell that her clients adored her. We chatted (I had to stop mid-sentence to apologize for stumbling over my words) and left that day with an ache in my gut, thinking that it probably wouldn’t work out. I mean who signs with their first choice anyway?

Although Erin and I are of similar age, I consider her to be one of my mentors. I have learned a ton from her about the business of children’s lit and the craft of writing. I’ve learned that you can know someone for two years and feel like you’ve known them forever. I’ve learned what I’m truly capable of. I’ve learned that dreams come true.

~~So, . Here is Erin’s Mentor Story:

When I was a very newbie editor, back in (mmphmm), I was so fortunate to know Marlene Blessing through a regional publishing association. My boss, the person who had hired me into publishing in the first place, had passed away quite suddenly, and boy, was I in need of a mentor!

Marlene took me under her wing from afar, and we'd see each other now and then at conferences. She is really the one who empowered me as an editor: She demonstrated to me that the editor's vision for shaping a list and the individual projects on it is critical, and that without vision, a list just doesn't coalesce. She also helped me talk through author relationships and navigating the politics within a publishing house, and encouraged me to follow my instincts and to honor and value my authors as partners in the creative process and as friends--all lessons that served me well as both editor and as a literary agent.

I'm so glad you asked me this question, Lynda; I'd lost touch with Marlene over the years and this prompted me to look her up, to reach out anew, and to find that she is now editorial director at Interweave Books, and before that was overseeing some of Interweave's craft magazines--so I'm certain she's been instrumental in bringing together some things that I have loved in my off-time as a knitter and crafter!=

Thanks so much, Erin!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Climbing into the Basement

Well, I've set a goal to blog more. Problem with me and blogging is that I think too much about it, I think (there I go again!) I analyze what I should include rather than just being honest like I am in my writing. Today, I'll not analyze and critique and wonder how the post will be taken. Today, I'll just be...honest. For better or worse.

I recall reading a book entitled, THE COURAGE TO WRITE, several years ago. It was recommended to me as part of a writers group run by Anita Riggio. It's a terrific book to read if you want to write but hesitate for any reason. If you deal with pesky voices asking you who you think you are to attempt such a thing. I feel like I could use a little of that courage today. If I were feeling brave today, I would not be blogging. I would be writing.

I have been working on a novel that I think is pretty decent. It is completed, my agent thinks it's powerful, and I am now working on revisions. I did some work on it yesterday--mostly notes. You know the rule--if it's hard to write, it's probably pretty darn good! By that standard, it must be...well...really, really good.

I remember talking to author, Nancy Werlin, a few years back about going into your own basement. She had said that if you wanted to write authentically, that you needed to crawl into your own cellar. Touch the things that hurt most, the things that make you vulnerable. I've been doing that. It hurts but feels good at the same time. I guess this is why writing can be considered so masochistic sometimes!

Weird things is, that plot-wise, this story resembles so little of my life. But there is a thin thread of me that runs through it. The emotional thread. By climbing into that basement. Touching those hurts. I help my character with his pain.

And he helps me with mine.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Writing Space (No--This is not my state of mind!)

I've been thinking a lot about setting. (In fact, I plan to do a post about it here soon.) But, first, I thought I’d do a post about writing space—my setting for creating characters like Carley Connors and Peter Keans.

In 2007, Laurie Halse Anderson spoke at Whispering Pines about ways to get serious about your writing. Here are her visuals, written in her own hand!

Laurie is fabulous! Not just because she's a writing genius, but because she is so accomplished, yet one of the most generous, sweet, gifted, inspiring authors I've ever met! I'd written 25 pages of my novel when I’d first met her. Now, it's under contract.

So, as Laurie suggested, I created a writing space that was mine. Comfortable, with a positive vibe, so to speak. A place that reflected who I am.

The best thing about my writing space, is the big window overlooking the trees. This is where my muse is--I could never write in a place without windows. Even when I write in libraries and book stores, it's always near a window. Thankfully, my office has a lot of natural light, bright colors, and childish things to distract me like a kaleidoscope collection, a couple of antique gumball machines, and some sand timers.

I first gave myself permission to write. I then created this space with a giant hand from my awesome husband, Greg. (*Thanks* Honey!) The space I have is really quite nice—I’m a bit spoiled, I know. The best thing about it, though, is that it helped me to take my writing seriously. That it wasn’t just a hobby. And, believe me, I'm quite aware that you don't need a fancy place to write to do that--I think it's more of a mindset--luckily, my mindset and the office were just good timing! After all, think of Rocky! (and Stephen King, who started out writing in a closet) But for me, it made me feel like I was gonna make a real “go” of it!

And I have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

PEN New England, 2010---A TOAST! TO BETTE ANNE!

A TOAST!! To Bette Anne!

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 PEN New England Susan Bloom Discovery Awards in Boston. What a treat!

Shortly after sitting down, I leaned toward a friend and asked, “Isn’t that Lois Lowry?” It was!!! OMG! Sitting next to her was Pat Lowry Collins! OMG! There was some stunning talent in the room! And the PEN winners were no exception!

Heather Jessen (above) won in the PB category for I WON A ROBOT IN A RAFFLE which was *adorable!* Seriously. Makes me want to have more kids just so I can buy it.

Linda Zajak (above) won in the non-fiction category for ICE BIRDS IN A WARMING LAND. Although she was not able to do a reading, she had some interesting facts about her travels and impetus for the book.

Bette Anne Rieth, a friend and writing group partner, won in the YA category. I’ve heard the story, GREETINGS FROM THE MIRACLE, before but I drove all the way to Boston to hear it again!!! It is amazing. She is so talented and an incredibly sweet person to boot! No doubt that the world will hear a lot more from Bette Anne!
BIG Congrat's to the three winners!! Hooray!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tassy Walden Awards--Shoreline Arts Alliance

I find myself saying the same thing a lot lately. “I am ONE lucky woman!”

I’m lucky in many respects, actually—in the wonderful family that I have been blessed with for none of my other successes could ever mean as much as they do without my husband and kids.

I am also lucky in that I have a large, rich network of writing friends. We toast each other in good times and bolster each other in not-so-good times. I love them dearly. Really.

Last Wednesday, I was honored to accept the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children’s Literature for a Young Adult Novel entitle ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. The contest is run by the Shoreline Arts Alliance, which is a fabulous organization here in Connecticut for writers (and all creative types!) Being nestled in between the children’s writing hubs of Boston and New York like we are, I’m so grateful for Shoreline Arts—they are the best Connecticut has to offer for bolstering the creative arts in Connecticut!

The Tassy Walden Award celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. In that time, it has become a rather well respected writing contest for Connecticut Children’s Writers. It is designed to mimic the submission process to publishing houses and has a panel of nationally recognized agents and children’s book editors as the judges. This year, there were 260 entries (PB, MG, YA) with about 10% being named finalists or winners. Pretty high percentage, I think—speaks to the quality that the Tassy Awards attract!

Since I’ve been asked about the judging process a couple of times, I’ll address it here. I think the most interesting facet of the judging process is that there is no set number of winners/finalists. The first round of judging is done by agents in New York. Then the whittled down group goes to editors for final judging. However, sometimes, a category has no winner and/or finalists. A finalist means that the judges deem it “publishable” so sometimes there are two or three or four or none—depending on the submissions.

I had a terrific night! I was nervous to read aloud in front of a group, but once I got started, was fine. I was able to connect with people from other writing conferences, most of my writers’ group (The Writer’s Bloc), writers from classes, and family. Also, a dear friend from Cape Cod did the round trip drive in one night to hear me read for ten minutes—that was extra special, as the foster mother in my novel is semi- based on her. It felt right to have her there.

My thanks, especially, to Donita Aruny and Doe Boyle (along with many others!) who do a TON of work on the Tassy Walden Awards. The contest wouldn’t be what it is without the both of them! ;-)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How do I type special characters?

Hey, Folks!

Ever wonder how to make special characters such as ☺☻♥♦♣♫ ? I found these directions on YAHOO! (I didn't write these.):

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

This should work in any Windows word processor, text editor, browser or email client.
1. Make sure your keyboard is in NumLock mode.
2. Hold down the ALT key and enter the number on the numeric keypad. (Note that many laptops have a blue FN key that changes a set of keys, also with blue numbers on them and usually in the 7-8-9-U-I-O area, into a numeric keypad.)

for ☺ 1
for ☻ 2
for ♥ 3
for ♦ 4
for ♣ 5
for ♠ 6
for • 7
for ◘ 8
for ○ 9
for ◙ 10
for ♂ 11
for ♀ 12
for ♪ 13f
or ♫ 14
for ☼ 15
for ► 16
for ◄ 17
for ↕ 18
for ‼ 19
for ¶ 20
for § 21
for ▬ 22
for ↨ 23
for ↑ 24
for ↓ 25
for → 26
for ← 27
for ∟ 28
for ↔ 29
for ▲ 30
for ▼ 31

Hope that helps.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Doughnut Pond

I went off to do some research at Doughnut Pond in Sandwich, MA.

It was just as I imagined. Well, actually far better...

I sat on a log near the edge and wrote the scene that takes place here. I was absolutely stunned when two teenage hockey players showed up just as I finished writing.....

I felt a little creepy snapping these pictures. (They
saw me and didn't seem to care) They cleared the ice with brooms and shovels, put on their skates, and began to play.

It was a little surreal...

Then I was off to do research at the marshes....

The marshes are beautiful. The pics don't do them justice, really...

So, I headed into the center of Sandwich because I'd seen a coffee shop with a good "writing vibe." HOW did I NOT notice the name of the place earlier???? Go ahead, naysayers. Tell me this isn't toooo weird!

I was hesitant to leave writing the book (under a stiff deadline) to tromp around in my settings like this, but it turned out to be WELL worth the trip!

Memorable. Inspiring. And all soooo real...

Good idea to know the setting in a place other than my head...

I think I'll set the next book in Italy....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Heaven in Boston---ALA, 2010

Hello ALL!

Last weekend, I went to Boston to ALA and it was incredible! Seriously, it was heaven for anyone who loves books!

Imagine having every publisher represented in one room! (I have a serious crush on Random House. I'm just sayin...) And, as you walk by their booths, these angelic people call out to you, "Excuse me! Would you like a complimentary copy of this ARC (Advanced Readers Copy)?" WAY better than a kid in a candy store! Way better!

I connected with old friends, too. So, I have to say that it doesn't get better than this for a weekend away! Books, friends, books, talented authors, friends, books. This is how the day went!

On Friday, I had dinner at Emmet's Pub with my agent, Erin Murphy, and her partner in crime, Joan Paquette. An absolutely perfect way to start out the whole adventure! I ordered the chicken pot pie to be a traditional Irishwoman but ate very little. I think I talked a lot. Nothing "Irish" about that, now is there?!

On Saturday, I attended ALA. If you EVER have the opportunity to go, DON'T pass it up! I met/reconnected with SO many great people and their work!

Andrew Clements, author of FRINDLE among other greats in children's lit.

Barbara Johansen-Newman, author/illustrator of the adorable, kid-friendly TEX AND SUGAR. She's a blast to talk with, too!

Thrilled to reconnect with Newbery winner, Cynthia Lord, and Printz winner, Ellen Wittlinger. Terrific authors! Even better people!!!

Incredibly talented writers/illustrators, Brian Lies (BATS ON THE BEACH and others in series) and Barbara Johansen Newman.

New friend and debut author, Jame Richards. I scored her ARC, THREE RIVERS RISING, A NOVEL OF THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD. Can't wait to dive in! Well, you know what I mean...

Was so happy to reconnect with Alisa Libby, author of BLOOD CONFESSIONS. If you ever wnat to know about writing historical fiction, she's your girl! Amazing wealth of info. And fun to talk with, too!

Here I am at the Tweet/Greet with fab author, Ann Hayward Leal. We met in a writers' class a few months back and became instant friends! She's a blast AND she wears Converse!!
Her debut novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER is fantastic! Seriously.

I met Caldecott author/illustrator, Christopher Bing, for the first time. It is rare to be so blown away by someone's artwork! I spent my lunch money on his books! An excellent trade off!

Not only is his talent stunning, but you'll rarley meet such a good guy. He writes a paragraph in his books when he signs them. A Paragraph!!! And he chats with people because he thinks (and he's right!) it makes a better memory.

And...he loves the Red Sox. Need I say more?

So, after I get my YA done, I'll be working my way through my ARCs! Here are the ones I am most excited about:

KYLE'S ISLAND by Sally Derby (Charlesbridge)
BAMBOO PEOPLE By Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge)
THREE RIVERS RISING by Jame Richards (Knopf)
THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE by Kimberly Newton Fusco (Knopf)
THIS MEANS WAR by Ellen Wittlinger (S&S)
STAR IN THE FOREST by Laura Resau (Delacorte)
SPLIT by Swati Avasthi (Knopf)
HOW TO GROW UP AND RULE THE WORLD by Vordak the Incomprehensible (Egmont) (My 12 year old son already read this in one sitting. LOVES it!)

I will be posting reviews here as soon as humanly possible. SO excited!!!

THANKS to ALA for putting on such an incredible event. THANKS to my agent, Erin Murphy, for being SO awesome! THANKS to Mitali Perkins who organized the Meet/Tweet event on Saturday night; this was a big high point of ALA for me! And THANKS to all of the authors and editors and publishers who...sigh...make such great books...