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1. Why We Read


Books were my salvation when, as I was growing up, my mother and I endured poverty, betrayal, and humiliation because of my violent, alcoholic father. From library books, I learned that not every home was like ours, that there were many ways to live. Books inspired my imagination; and imagination is the mother of hope. At thirteen, working part-time, I bought paperbacks, which were my treasure–the only one I needed. Authors, booksellers, and librarians were my heroes, providers of truth, magic, hope. And so they remain.
— Dean Koontz


Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Why We Read originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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2. SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway


Please tell us about your book.

Terpsichore Johnson is thrilled when her family is chosen for the Depression-era program that would transport 202 families from northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan all the way to Alaska to be self-sufficient farmers. She had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and now she was going to have a chance to be a pioneer, just like Laura Ingalls.

She hadn’t realized, though, just what pioneering would mean – giving up inside plumbing, electricity, and even libraries! Worse yet, fumbled management of the project leaves some families in tents as the first snow falls.

Despite challenges, Terpsichore comes to love Alaska. Her mother, however, still misses their home in Wisconsin. What could Terpsichore do to make her mother love Alaska like she does? She hatches a plan that involves a giant pumpkin and a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose.

What drew you to this story?

When I think of the Depression, I think of the dust bowl, college-educated men selling pencils on the street corner, and lines at the soup kitchen. I never realized that New Deal programs extended up to Alaska until my son moved to Palmer, Alaska and bought a rustic cabin on the outskirts of town next to a potato field.

I’ve always liked old houses, and in researching the history of the early days of Palmer, I discovered transcriptions of interviews of old-timers who had moved up with the program in 1935. What a trove of first-hand accounts! If other people also hadn’t heard about the history of the Palmer Colony, maybe I should write a book about it. I couldn’t use all the incidents they described, but I combined many of them and assigned them to my fictional Terpsichore and her new friends.

Palmer tent city B1970_019_106

Palmer tent city

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the AHA! moments when I find just the right info to connect the dots between previously known facts. Or to discover new info about historic characters I thought I knew. For instance, who knew that Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post spent one of their last days visiting the Palmer Colony before crashing near Barrow, Alaska?

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

I discovered a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose – someone on the Internet rated it as one of the ten most revolting foods.

The other oddest incident I ran across also involved a moose. A grave was dug the day before a funeral and during the night, a moose fell into it. The graveside service had to be delayed until the attendees figured out how to get the moose out of the hole. I wish I’d figured out a way to include that incident into the book!

Deer by Writer's Shack

I’ve always been charmed by your writing cabin. Could you tell us a little about it?

My writer’s shack started out as a wood shed – cement foundation with sturdy posts at the corners to support a roof. It’s one of the nicest spots on our get-away property on San Juan Island. Facing one direction, there’s a sliver of a view through the trees of Mosquito Pass. Facing the opposite direction, there’s a view of Garrison Bay and English Camp, established during the mid-1800’s when English and Americans were trying to decide which country owned the island.

Those views were too good to waste on a wood shed, so I asked my husband if I could claim it as my writing spot. I thought we’d just close in the sides with plywood and run an electrical wire out, but my husband found salvaged, leaded-glass windows for the view sides and had a small door custom made.

It’s only 7 feet by 8 feet, but it has all I need. I have a flat door held up by sawhorses for a desk, two lights, and a plug-in for an electrical heater so I can use it year-round. It’s about 30 paces from the house and another cup of tea.

What are you working on next?

My next book will be based on the Pig War, which took place on San Juan Island. 


Enter to win your own copy of SWEET HOME ALASKA below. The contest closes Wednesday, February 17. US residents only, please.

Carole - leaning smile-124 Carole Estby Dagg also wrote the middle-grade historical novel The Year We Were Famous. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and has lived in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. She has degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting. Her real-life adventures include tiptoeing through King Tut’s tomb, sand boarding the dunes of western Australia, riding a camel among the Great Pyramids, paddling with Manta rays in Moorea, and smelling the penguins in the Falkland Islands. She is married with two children, two grandchildren, a husband, and a bossy cat who supervises her work. She splits her writing time between her study in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.

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Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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3. Wholehearted in One Direction


I love all things Gretchen Rubin, writer and podcaster extraordinaire who’s an expert on habits and happiness. She reads extensively and daily shares a Moment of Happiness quote to “remind you to make choices in your ordinary routine that will boost your happiness.” Here’s a recent favorite:

Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation.
-W.H. Sheldon

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Wholehearted in One Direction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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4. A Visit to Mosquero, NM

mosquero readers

One of my greatest joys as an author is to meet with young readers. I get to pretend for an hour or a day than I am still teaching and that these students are mine.

Add to that joy the opportunity to travel to corners of New Mexico I’ve never seen before, and I’m a happy author indeed.

Last week I went to Mosquero, NM, a village ninety-three people strong, and one of the two communities in Harding County, NM (the other village, Roy, has a population of 234). The visit came about as a result of my postcard mailings last fall.

I met with the entire elementary school (pictured above). What a fabulous group of kids! For you to get a sense of all the wonderful things happening in this community, I’m adding here something I shared on Facebook last week:

I want to take a moment and brag on Mosquero Municipal Schools of Mosquero, NM. This tiny town (population 93) has one of the two school systems in Harding County, NM. I spent yesterday with the elementary school (an engaging, hardworking, sweet group of marvelous readers) and interacted a bit with the high schoolers, too.

Here’s a glimpse of what these kids do: Seventh and eighth graders work on the Mi Familia project, which is committed to recording the history of the people of Harding County. Since 2008, the high school has been working on Main Street murals, their first experience with art class (a mentor was hired to teach the students, but all the work is their own). They write, print, and distribute a quarterly newspaper for the entire county. Not only do they shoot all the school photos, they open their studio to the public. One student who decided the school should have a yearbook has made it happen on her own.

New Mexico’s educational system often gets bad press. We’re at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to national ranking. But I want everyone to know there are important, exciting, vital things happening in this place. Kids are doing marvelous work, work worth celebrating.

Hats off to the students and teachers of Mosquero Municipal Schools. It was a privilege to spend the day with them.


The post A Visit to Mosquero, NM originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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5. On Writing

If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.
— Nikki Giovanni

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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6. An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared


Last January, my local SCBWI chapter held a discussion on writing goals for the new year. At the time I had been processing a quote from Brenda Ueland as well as a recent email exchange with my critique partner, Valerie Geary, and was inspired to declare 2015 the year I learn to Write Smart and Not Scared.

Regular readers around here will know I’ve blogged about Smart and Not Scared writing throughout 2015. I’m still learning what this sort of writing looks like in my own life and will continue to do so in the year to come. Here’s a recap of the blog posts I’ve run and the topics I’ve covered. I hope you might click through to read them and join me in learning what it means to approach creativity in this way.

5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

  • I want to be aware of the work beneath the work
  • I want to be proactive instead of reactive
  • I want my work, even when it’s hard, to bring about joy and satisfaction
  • I will not be afraid of anxious vanity
  • I will learn to mentally thumb my nose at the jeerers, critics, and doubters

An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared

  • Discomfort will always be part of my process
  • My deepest satisfaction comes from the work itself
  • “No” is often a gift
  • Choosing a challenge is ultimately satisfying
  • Breaks feed my creativity

Write. Make. Create.

One way I’m choosing to free up the overwhelming creating-something-from-nothing phase is to do a little mental word play. Much like I trick myself into steady work by focusing on the story’s present moment (rather than reminding myself I’m writing a whole darn book), I’m going to claim two words from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:

I’m not going to write right now. I’m going to make. I’m going to create.

Writing Smart and Not Scared: More Words from Isabel Allende

I find it interesting that Allende has only recently learned to “go easily with confidence” when it comes to her writing. “If I sit long enough, it will happen,” she says. She’s twenty-one novels in, but only recently has she realized she has a skill. Now she knows “If given enough time, I can write almost anything.”



The post An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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7. Writing Links

one way

What Does it Take to Finish a Book? :: Lisa Schroeder

When the Fun Begins :: Marion Dane Bauer (working with an editor)

6 Ways Authors Over-Dramatize :: Jody Hedlund

8 Paradoxes of Creative People :: Modern Mrs. Darcy

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Top 10 Tips for Writers to Stay Inspired and Kick-Start Your Creativity :: Goodreads

Revision Mindsets: Artist, Story, or Audience :: Fiction Notes

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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8. Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction

Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. Lizzie and the Lost Baby is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers, and her picture book Hungry Coyote (inspired by a coyote she saw one winter morning) won the 2015 Moonbeam Award in the category of picture books for ages 4-8.

What typically comes first for you?

Setting is often the first thing I think about with a new story. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I wanted to set a story in England and I modeled fictional Swainedale on Rosedale in the North York Moors, where my parents owned a cottage for many years. Rosedale is beautiful: wild in some places and pastoral in others. I love hiking across its purple-covered moorland on a sunny day and I worked hard to get the feel of the place into the story. I didn’t set out to write this book as historical fiction, but when Lizzie appeared she seemed to belong to a very specific time and place.


How do you conduct your research?

I usually begin on the web and then migrate to other resources such as the library or a primary source. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I needed information about English World War II evacuees and about the Gypsy/Traveller culture. I found fascinating BBC online archives of ordinary people’s wartime experiences and my primary source was my parents. My father was an evacuee whereas my mother stayed in her home in Hull and suffered through the bombing blitz. To learn about the Gypsy/Roma/Traveller culture, I began with memoirs, including Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two: A Gypsy Family’s Hard and Happy Times on the Road in the 1950s by Maggie Smith Bendell. Much of what is written about Gypsies was written by outsiders but this was information from a primary source. Maggie and I have since become friends and she was an early reader of my book. She gave it the thumbs up – which makes me very happy.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Everything! I love falling down the “research rabbit hole.” I always learn far more facts than I ever use! And actually, I shouldn’t have said “everything” because keeping accurate detailed records of my sources isn’t my favorite thing to do.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

For LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY, the most astonishing thing was that my father and uncle were evacuees — I had not known that before I began writing. The other fascinating things I discovered were all related to the Gypsy/Traveller culture in England . For example, I knew that Gypsies were avid horse traders but I didn’t know that they preferred a specific type of horse (grys in their language) that is sturdy and steady and has a beautiful long tail and feathery hair dangling over its hooves.

Why is historical fiction important?

Modern problems often have historical equivalents and we can all learn from the lessons of the past. Fiction can help readers develop empathy with people or problems they otherwise know little about, such as the Gypsies in LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY. The prejudice towards the travelling people that Lizzie encountered is nothing new; it has existed for centuries and continues to this day. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime murdered tens of thousands of Roma in an effort to exterminate a people they deemed inferior. Genocide is an ugly difficult subject and narrative fiction can help us find a way to discuss it with students.

More fabulous books about this time period:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial Books, 2015

A Frost in the Night by Edith Baer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, reissued 2011.

The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Click here to download your own Blue Birds printable. Enjoy!

The post Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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9. MIDNIGHT WITOUT A MOON: A Cover Reveal, An Interview, A Giveaway

Readers here might remember Linda’s extraordinary writing journey. I’m honored to play a part in welcoming her debut novel into the world.

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.

 Then, one town over, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.

Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Typically, a story idea comes first. But with this book, my first stab at historical fiction, it was an era. I knew I wanted to write a story that included the Emmett Till murder. Hence, 1955.

Next came the character. Many African Americans were migrating to the North before and during this time, and some of them were mothers who, for various reasons, left their children in the South to be raised by grandparents. My main character, thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter, happens to be one of those children.

Finally, the story idea came to me. Besides the Emmett Till murder being woven into the story, what would be the premise? I couldn’t think of one until I read the book Vernon Can Read! by Civil Rights activist Vernon Jordan. In his book he stated that his family was not concerned, one way or the other, about the Civil Rights Movement or what white people did or did not allow black people to do. They set out to enjoy their lives despite their circumstances in the South. I thought, “How interesting! Not every black person was concerned about equal rights.” This also explained quite a bit about my own Mississippi Delta family. I often wondered why no one in my family was ever involved in the Civil Rights Movement, or even spoke about it, for that matter. And from that concept I found my premise: A young girl who longs for something more than the cotton fields of Mississippi, yet she is being raised by grandparents who are content with their segregated Southern existence and even resistant to the quickly approaching Civil Rights Movement.

How do you conduct your research?

Most of my research was done via the Internet. I read many online articles about the Emmett Till case, plus I was able to find the entire FBI transcript of the case online. I also read books—both fiction and nonfiction—either about the case or simply with a 1955 Mississippi setting. Additionally, in order to get a good grasp on the time period, I read other works of historical fiction set in that time period, regardless of the plot/characters.

Since I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, and spent most of my childhood in sharecropper shacks that were not nearly as nice as the one in which I have placed Rose and her family, some of the scenes in the novel are based on actual events that occurred during my own childhood. What I found, while reading other works set in 1950’s Mississippi, was that conditions had not improved much between 1955, when Rose was coming of age, and 1975, when I was coming of age.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I feel comfortable beginning a draft when I know I have a strong enough premise to complete a novel. I need to have a starting point (date/timeframe) and an ending point. With this novel, my starting date is two days before Emmett Till’s 14th birthday, which was July 25, 1955. The novel ends a week and two days after his murderers are acquitted, which was October 2, 1955. My original starting date was Emmett Till’s actual birthday (July 25) and the end date was sometime in January. But after I began drafting, the structure changed as I found more material and story to fill the timeslot between July and October than I had anticipated.

I continue my research through the Internet and any print material that comes my way. Oh, and I will purchase books if I’m not able to find the material online or at the library. Many of the books I’ve purchased for research are good books to have in my personal library anyway. Plus, they’re tax-deductible.

MWAM cover-linda jackson

What is your favorite thing about research?


What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Too much discovery! I could spend all day reading and might not ever get to the actual writing!

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Turning fact into fiction! I absolutely love that—gathering all these facts then weaving them into a setting with dialogue and narrative. I love the challenge of providing information to the reader while putting them inside the story at the same time.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Making sure you get those facts right! If you don’t, the people who are familiar with that time, place, people, or events, will have no mercy when it comes to criticism. Of course, no one is perfect, and even memory isn’t perfect. So there might still be a fact or two that we don’t get right. And all we can do in that case is pray our readers have mercy and remember we did our best to get all the facts straight.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Well, I actually learned two things that sort of blew my mind during the research. One, my mom said she “thought” she knew of someone who was involved in the Emmett Till murder. But during my research, I found someone that I did know who was involved. Can you imagine my shock when the name turned up in the research? And two, I found out that the place where the murderers originally planned to take Emmett Till in order to “scare” him was in my hometown. So the story became even more real to me as a result of these two discoveries. I felt a personal connection to the story.

Has your research ever affected the overall trust of your book? How so?

Yes! There was so much conflicting data regarding the Emmett Till case that I basically had to pick the sources I thought would be the most reliable. Then there were other facts that I simply had to leave out of the story due to so much contradictory data on the case.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

In order to make the Emmett Till case relevant to my main character, I had to somehow make a connection between her family and the family of Mose Wright, the great-uncle that Emmett Till was visiting in Money, Mississippi, when he was murdered. Since I didn’t want to go overboard with tying real historical figures to fictional characters, I tried to get away with only one line stating that Rose’s grandfather and Mose Wright went “way back.” But my editor (Elizabeth Bewley) said I needed to make the connection stronger. And, of course, she was right. So I had to carefully weave in a few more connections without going overboard. I know this isn’t necessarily changing history, but it involved the trickiness of marrying fact and fiction.

Why is historical fiction important?

First of all, studying history in itself is important because it helps us understand the present. Historical fiction, in my opinion, is important because it gives us a more engaging way of studying and understanding the past.

For me, this book in particular was important because I needed to understand my own past. My mother didn’t register to vote until she was in her 50’s, and that was because for the first time, an African American was running for mayor in our small town. Furthermore, I don’t think she would have registered then if someone hadn’t come to our house, picked her up, and actually taken her down to the courthouse to register. Writing this book helped me understand that. My mother, and many other African American people in the South, hadn’t registered to vote because they could have been killed for doing so. Killed! Just for registering to vote. I knew this in a shallow kind of way. But writing the story helped me understand it. It helped me feel the fear. And I hope my readers will, too.

Also, regarding Emmett Till, I often asked myself, “Why would his great-uncle Mose Wright allow Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam to take him away from the house in the middle of the night when he knew his life was in danger? Why would he suggest they just ‘whup the boy’ and let it be?” Again, writing this book helped me understand Mose Wright’s predicament, which was quite heartbreaking.

Writing the book, I set out to answer the question, “Why didn’t more people stand up for their rights?” But my editor has stated that the book will make young readers ask the question, “What would I have done?”

I have always admired writers of historical fiction but felt it was impossible to do so myself. After taking the plunge, however, I feel more confident and plan to write more historical fiction pieces that I hope will inspire, encourage, and entertain young readers. It takes a lot of research to write historical fiction. But now I know that the research is the best part!

Caroline, THANK YOU, for allowing me to be a part of your blog today and to introduce readers to Midnight without a Moon. I am excited to give them a first look at the cover, which was illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman, who illustrated the covers for Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight, Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird, and the 50th anniversary edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s absolutely my pleasure.

Giveaway: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is kindly offering one ARC of Midnight without a MoonThe contest closes Monday, February 1. US residents only, please.

linda1Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the teeny-tiny town of Rosedale, Linda Williams Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), Linda currently makes her home in a not-so-small city in Mississippi with her husband and three children.

While a degree in Math and Computer Science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy careers in Information Technology, Linda now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her forthcoming debut middle-grade novel Midnight without a Moon from HMH Books for Young Readers (January 3, 2017), Linda is published in multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul titles and has written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers. Find her online at www.jacksonbooks.com.

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10. On Writing in the New Year

one way

This quote isn’t necessarily about the writing life, but it certainly could be. One of the biggest writing lessons I learned last year had to do with mistakes — not avoiding them but working through them. My experience echoes Neil Gaiman’s advice:

I hope that in this year to come you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

Here’s similar advice from Seth Godin.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They lead you one step closer to finding the best way.

The post On Writing in the New Year appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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11. Classroom Connections: PAPER WISHES by Lois Sepahban

genre: historical fiction
setting: Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, 1942
age range: 9-12
Lois Sepahban’s website

A superior story of survival and love.
— School Library Journal, starred review

This historical debut speaks volumes of love and longing.
— Kirkus, starred review

Engrossing and heartrending historical fiction.
— Publisher’s Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.

What inspired you to write this story?

My book takes place at Manzanar in 1942. From 1942-1945, it was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, most of whom were children. I grew up in central California, and I had two classmates whose grandparents were Manzanar internees. My classmates’ mom spoke to us a few times about her parents’ experiences at Manzanar. So, by the time I was seven or eight years old, I was aware of Manzanar. I was too young to understand it, but having something of a personal connection to the camp made me curious to learn more. My research led me to so many heartbreaking and poignant stories, as well as some very strange ones. One strange story was in an newspaper article. The old man being interviewed said that at some point, dogs started showing up at the camp. No one knew where they were coming from or how they got there. When I read that article, I got goosebumps. Suddenly, I knew what my story would be. 

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

Researching my book was a process that stretched over several years. It began, unintentionally, of course, in my childhood. Every time my parents drove past Manzanar on family trips or I listened to someone talk about Manzanar–these moments were layers of research that slowly built over time.

My curiosity really flamed to life in 2013 when I read Heather Lindquist’s book The Children of Manzanar. For the next few months, I devoured Manzanar true stories. I found an archive of oral history video interviews with former internees on Densho.org. My research at that time was deliberate. I knew that I wanted to write a story set at Manzanar. I knew I wanted it to have a love story between an internee and a camp worker. I knew I wanted the story to be from the perspective of a little sister. So I focused my research on the areas that were important to these storylines. I looked at old maps. I read supply lists and building reports from 1942. I drove along Highway 395 in California and tried to imagine how it must have looked to eyes that saw it for the first time. It is a landscape of scrub brush and red dirt. Very different from the lush rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. I continued to research as I wrote–looking for details and facts as I needed them for the story. And I was fortunate that a historian at the Manzanar National Historic Site was willing to read the manuscript to check for historical accuracy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

The real challenge is that you can’t make certain things up in historical fiction. The characters, yes. The conversations, yes. Known historical events? Not so much. Writers do take liberties with history. I did. But I was careful to point out those liberties in the author’s note. When I speak to groups about my novel, it is not uncommon for me to hear from attendees that they had never before heard about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. So I feel a great responsibility to honestly portray this history.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

My book is a good fit for 4th grade social studies in California, Oregon, and Washington because these were the states affected by the Exclusion Zone rule. It is a good fit for 5th grade and 8th grade social studies because it discusses U.S. history. This history applies to Canada, too, which also had Japanese internment camps during World War II.

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12. On My Nightstand


I took this picture a few weeks ago, and already the pile has changed. One book read, one more from my shelves added, one my son wants me to read, one ARC that arrived in the mail, one on loan from a friend, two I picked up from the library, and one more Klondike research book.

Yes, one book has been languishing there for over a year now (points to those who know which one it is). I will get to it at some point!

What’s on your reading list?

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13. Fragile Beginnings and Too-Early Audiences

counting by 7s

I’m always finding metaphors for the writing life in the world around me, and this exchange from Counting by 7sreminds me of the way I think about early drafts.

“Are you really planning on running?”

Dell mumbles a form of yes. But then adds:

“But I’m not going to join any kind of team in the spring. I made that part up. I’m just going to run for myself.”

I don’t think that’s strange because almost everything that I pursue is for my own understanding or amusement.

I believe having an audience naturally corrupts the performance.

And I believe the more private my writing is in the early stages, the more its about my own understanding and amusement, the more it will eventually connect with an audience. To invite in an audience too early, even an imaginary one, complicates things, for this writer, at least.

That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes talk about or even show early portions of things to writing friends. But mostly I give stories the room to unfurl, to take root in the midst of their fragile beginnings.

For those readers here who write, I’m curious about how your approach this aspect of  your work.



*This book comes highly recommended!






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14. Wisdom from BIG MAGIC


“… Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person… Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process…You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies… .

So the question is not so much ‘What are you passionate about?’ the question is ‘What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?'”

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15. Links to Help You Write Smart and Not Scared


Here are a few posts that tie in perfectly with the writing theme I adopted last year. Let’s keep approaching our work in an intentional, life-giving way — even if it feels counter-productive.

To this my doctor responded, “So basically you use sugar and caffeine to whip yourself into a manic frenzy in order to write a book?” After I nodded grimly at her assessment, she went on, “Well, we either need to figure out how to completely overhaul your writing process or you need to find a new career, because being an author is literally killing you.”

My doctor’s pronouncement was both devastating and a big “duh” moment for me. Rather than give up the career I love, I decided to dedicate myself to creating healthier (and happier) writing habits.
— Beating Deadlines with Healthy Writing Habits by Bree Despain :: Publishing Crawl

If you’re a somewhat neurotic and anxiety prone writer like myself, you probably have a voice inside your head that likes to tell you that you’re not good enough, or your writing isn’t good enough, or that everything you put on a page is crap and you’re never going make your deadline on time (or finish this book, or sell this book, etc.). For me, this voice goes into hyperdrive when I’m on deadline. I start questioning all of my plot choices and second-guessing every word I type. It can be crippling if I don’t either turn it off or change the words that it’s telling me.
Beating Deadlines with Healthy Writing Habits Part 2: Write Happy by Bree Despain :: Fiction University

I now approach writing focused on what could be instead of what I think it should be. Instead of expecting results NOW, I accept that writing is a long journey, where going slow is the norm.
Author Overwhelm: Five Ways You Can Stay Away from Despair :: Children’s Writer’s Guild

But I am learning more and more, especially over the past year, that being nonproductive is actually essential to mindful, intentional living. In fact, being nonproductive is one of the most productive things we can ever do—even if the behavior wars against every inclination in our body.
— The Productivity of Being Non-Productive :: Becoming Minimalist


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16. Why We Read

Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable.
– Augustine Birrell

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17. A New Cover for Blue Birds

As I write, sometimes an image for a book’s cover starts to form in my mind. Back in 2014, when my editor told me cover discussions for Blue Birds were underway, I took a moment to get on paper the idea I had in my head. It wasn’t meant as direction for illustrators Elena and Anna Balbusso, it was simply a chance for me to record what I had been picturing for months. I set the sketch aside, showing no one.

February BB sketch

I love how closely the Balbusso sisters’ vision aligned with mine. And I especially love the way a portion of the original cover has been used for the paperback version that released yesterday, a true echo of that sketch I drew two years ago.

Don’t forget you have until Friday to win a Blue Birds prize pack — one for you, one for your friend. And you can always pick up a copy from your local bookstore or order one online.


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18. A Blue Birds Giveaway with Four Ways to Win

blue birds notecard

Tomorrow my dear book releases in paperback form.

Blue Birds is a celebration of friendship, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the book’s paperback release than a giveaway meant for you and your friend. Each winner will receive two signed paperbacks and notecard packets (the notecards feature one of my favorite quotes from the book). One packet is for you to keep, the other is to give to your friend.

There are four different ways to win, meaning I’m giving away eight books and notecard sets. You can enter all four giveaways, increasing your chance to win.

Want to join in? It’s easy. All four contests close at the end of Friday, January 8. US residents only, please.

Contest #1

Re-tweet the Blue Birds tweet that went live last night. Simply click through to @CStarrRose to find it. It’s the one that says Retweet this by 1/8 to enter the giveaway. Win 2 books and 2 notecard packs (for you and a friend).

Contest #2

Share a quote about friendship on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #BlueBirdsbook. Here’s an example for you:  No friendship is an accident.  ― O. Henry #BlueBirdsbook

Contest #3

Share a picture of you and your friend on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #BlueBirdsbook. **A bonus entry goes to everyone who includes a bluebird or a copy of Blue Birds in the picture.

Contest #4

Just for newsletter subscribers (you can subscribe by clicking here). To enter, simply hit “reply” to the newsletter I send out on Tuesday, January 5 and include your mailing address.

Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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19. Straight From the Source: Lois Ruby on Writing Historical Fiction

Lois Ruby slipped in the back door as a writer for young people. That is, she was a Young Adult librarian for the Dallas Public Library, and after reading a thousand books in her department, she decided she could write the stories herself. Her first book was published in 1977. Since then, 18 more have seen print, and Lois is no longer a working librarian. Instead, her time is divided among her family, research, writing, presenting at conferences, and visiting schools to energize children, teens, and teachers about the ideas in books for young readers. Lois’s novel, Steal Away Home, is used in the 5th grade Civil War curriculum in almost every school in Georgia.

Although Lois and her husband, Dr. Tom Ruby, raised their family in Kansas, they now share their lives in Albuquerque. Their three sons and daughters-in-law, and seven amazing grandchildren, are scattered around the country.

Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts about historical fiction. It’s my first love, although I didn’t like history while I was in school. In those days it was all about kings and wars and memorizing dates. As I began writing historical fiction, I came to realize that history is individual people and their personal dramas within the context of events – large and small – swirling around them. So, yes, history is war and dates, but also art and music and law and order and ekeing out a living and planting and sowing and seeking meaning and purpose in the midst of huge events one cannot control. Once I saw all that, I allowed my imagination to wander until characters fixed to a certain time and place popped into my mind. Then it was simply (but not so simply) a matter of letting those characters poke around in their environment until a story emerged. I wait for characters to tell me their story. Sometimes it’s a long wait, maybe years of patient waiting.

I’m a recovering librarian, so I love the research as much as the writing. One of my friends does a huge amount of research for each novel, then disposes of all those materials before moving onto the next book. Not me. I continue to collect info and artifacts long after a book is written, which is why my office is such a jungle. So, I have boxes and boxes of research notes, print-outs, maps, articles, glossaries, bibliographies, photographs, and, of course, books on each of my historical subjects. And guess what. Even after all this research and later intense scrutiny of facts by my editors, there are still errors that surprise me in my books.

The process of writing contemporary novels differs from that of writing historicals. For contemporaries, the character comes first, and I have to figure out who this person is, and what his or her story is, and why this person is interesting or important enough for me to spend two or three years with. However, for historical novels, the time period comes first, and then my task is to figure out who populates that specific era and locale. Once that’s established, the story begins to write itself, and I have the privilege of hearing what the character has to say and recording it as fast as I can, like watching a movie in my mind.

I begin research for historicals by reading the best children’s book I can find on that subject, because the breadth and clear language are going to tell me what I need to know to get my own thinking cranked up. Then I move on to depth. Of course, I read online, but you can’t trust everything on the Internet, so any specifics I pick up, I need to verify with material that’s actually vetted and fact-checked by reputable publishers.

It’s important to visit the places we write about whenever possible, even if the events we’re describing happened centuries ago. We need to see the terrain, feel and smell the atmosphere out of which our characters spring, for I believe place affects one’s orientation and thinking. For example, I’ve been researching southeast Kansas in the 1870’s. Recently my husband and I visited the very place those dramatic events occurred, read the local papers on microfilm, interviewed people whose ancestors grew up in that area, and soaked up details about the trees, hills, and sky for sensory-loaded setting. I’ve had to put that book aside to work on other things with deadlines, so it could be years before I get back to writing it, but I’ll keep researching. In fact, I normally spend about two years researching an historical novel, all the while mentally interviewing my characters to plumb for the peculiarities and doubts and certainties, and especially the poignant moments in their lives.

When to stop research and start writing? Who knows? For me it’s a circular process. The research peppers the narrative, and as I write and realize how little I actually know, I return to the research … which yields new details and possibilities for my characters. I ask a zillion questions. Each answer opens the window on another question, the answer of which leaves me gasping because so many, many ideas pop up, and I haven’t “world enough, or time” to explore them all. Let me give you an example. I’d been doing a great deal of research on Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s, for my World War II book, Shanghai Shadows. Finally, I said, enough study – write it, already! Then I thumbed languidly through a book I’d actually already read for this project, and a tiny, but very significant detail jumped off the page. It was something I’d overlooked in the first reading because I wasn’t ready for it yet, but now that the detail was mine, it led me in a whole new direction of inquiry. What a joy!

Something about the research process: As I read, I write or type notes on 3×5 cards, one for each fact or captivating observation. These cards are organized by broad subject, such as dates, relevant laws, crops, quotes, historical figures, geography, etc. I index the information on each card by very specific details, much as you’d see in the index at the back of a book. That’s how I can retrieve info quickly to flesh out a scene. It’s a slow and arduous process, and yeah, I know, there are programs for collecting and sorting info, but I was writing before the term apps was invented. I’m old enough to remember and love library card catalogs!

I’m intrigued by the question Caroline posed: “What sorts of decisions have you had to make about ‘muddy’ historical figures or events in order for your book to work?” Wow, that gets an author’s heart thumping! The easy answer is that I often find contradictory information from one source to the next, such as the year of a certain major occurrence that affects my created characters. Sometimes a fact can be clarified or verified by a more definitive source, but at times even that doesn’t work, in which case I have to make my best guess. But what the question is really getting at is something more complex, and it leads to the query, how much can we tweak history to fit our story? We might need to juggle less significant dates a bit. We might need to intentionally omit some historical facts in service of the story, particularly about unsavory characters who might have done things too raw for the young audience I’m hoping to reach. We might need to put words in the mouth of an actual person who lived, though we can’t verify that that person said those words. We might need to invent characters who never existed, and drop them into an historical context to breed more drama for our protagonists. After all, it’s why we call historical novels fiction. So here are two things I try to remember: (1) make the story engaging and accessible to readers; but (2) don’t lose track of the deeper truth – which is beyond the facts – of what really happened.

Historical fiction is important, I believe, because it makes the dry back-story of our shared human experience spring to life with vividness and insight. There’s a common saying that if we don’t study our history, we’re doomed to repeat it. Some terrible things have happened; some terrible things continue to happen. But my hope is that as writers of historical fiction, particularly for young people, we cast a questioning and understanding eye on cultural, historical, and heroic events of the past, to help readers make wise, humane choices for the future.




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20. What I’ve Been Reading: Wolf Books

wolf books

I love when my reading, through no intentional effort, falls into noticeable themes. In the last few weeks I’ve read these three books about wolves.

Old Wolf — Avi (middle grade)

I can always rely on Avi to create a good story. He’s an author who feels like an old friend. This book focuses on a boy who’s just received a bow for his thirteenth birthday and a wolf who is facing his last winter. It is clear from the start the two stories will intersect (a story structure I enjoy) but not exactly when or how. I downloaded this from my library and listened to it while walking the dog.

The Wolf Wilder — Katherine Rundell (middle grade)

I heard about this book through a Nerdy Book Club post written by teacher extraordinaire, Donalyn Miller. It’s set in the Russian wilderness, which is so beautifully and carefully rendered it becomes a character itself. The Wolf Wilder is brave and lovely and fairy tale-ish and witty. I can’t read without absorbing writing lessons of some sort, and structurally this book interested me in two aspects. First, there is little that occurs after the climax, and second, the distant third-person narration used to frame the beginning and the end further enhances the fairy tale quality.

Wolf Winter — Cecilia Ekback (literary thriller? I’m awful at determining genres sometimes*)

This book I learned about through a Shelf Awareness advertisement. The title and the description, which included Lappland in the eighteenth century and Swedish Gothic, were enough to win me over. Like Wolf Wilder, the winter setting is key to the story and becomes a character of its own. About fifty pages from the end, I told my husband the “bad guy” was entirely too obvious and therefore couldn’t truly be “the one.” And wow, those last pages were a wild ride. The wolves in this book aren’t even of the physical variety, which I’m not going to try to explain. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.

*Because I mentioned genre for the adult title, I felt it important to point out that middle grade isn’t a genre, but an age-range classification (typically categorized for readers ages 8-12). Just wanted to clarify!

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21. Why We Read


The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
― Jane Austen

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22. A January Giveaway: Four Ways to Win a Blue Birds Prize Pack for You and a Friend

blue birds note cards

Blue Birds is a celebration of friendship, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the book’s paperback release next month than a giveaway meant for you and your friend. Each winner will receive two signed paperbacks and the two notecard packets shown above. One is for you to keep, the other to give to your friend.

There will be four different ways to win, meaning I’m giving away eight books and notecard sets. You can enter all four giveaways, increasing your chance to win.

Interested? Curious? Ready to learn more? Once January’s here, I’ll give you more details, but for now, it wouldn’t hurt to find a quote about friendship that’s meaningful to you and hunt down a picture of you and your friend.

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23. Writing Links


What It Really Means to Build Your Wings on the Way Down :: Ingrid Sundberg

A Pep Talk for Writers Struggling to Find Writing Time :: Jody Hedlund

The Authors Answer: What Made Your Best School Visits Great? :: Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Talker

What is Success? :: Lisa Schroeder

Writing on a Deadline :: Pub Crawl

On Writing: Creating Characters and Maintaining Continuity in Writing :: Penguin Random House

Merry Christmas, all. I’ll see you again in the new year.

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24. It’s Complicated: Ugly Topics, Sympathetic Characters

I’ve just learned C. J. Omololu lost her long and valiant battle with cancer. Thank you, Cynthia, for what you taught me about being brave with my own writing. This post originally ran in September 2010.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing that is hard. Not difficult process-wise, but challenging because of the subject matter.

Here’s the question I keep coming back to: How is an author to write about difficult characters and ugly circumstances without losing a reader’s compassion?

Last night, I finished C. J. Omololu’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, a young adult novel about a girl who must cope with her mentally ill mother.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Everyone has a secret. But Lucy’s is bigger and dirtier than most. It’s one she’s been hiding for years—that her mom’s out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. She’s managed to keep her home life hidden from her best friend and her crush, knowing they’d be disgusted by the truth. So, when her mom dies suddenly in their home, Lucy hesitates to call 911 because revealing their way of life would make her future unbearable—and she begins her two-day plan to set her life right.

With details that are as fascinating as they are disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy’s desperate attempt at normalcy. Her fear and isolation are palpable as readers are pulled down a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen’s life will have readers completely hooked.

C.J. presents a messy, ugly world that doesn’t shy away from the pain and anger her characters experience. She’s done this while keeping my compassion in place. C. J. didn’t lessen the burden this mother’s compulsion had become for her children. She’s made no attempt to prettify the destructive obsession, the damaged relationships, or the brokenness of her characters. Readers are handed a complex mix of shock, revulsion, sadness, and sympathy for the characters and the mess they’re in.

What C.J. has written is tough, tender, and thought provoking.

What she’s done works.

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25. To Beginners and Ever-New Beginnings


There is something beautiful and clarifying and terrifying all at once in being at the beginning… To be a beginner is to be full of hope-filled humility, to be overflowing with eager expectation that is simultaneously held in check by the obvious gap between your aspirations and current abilities. To be a beginner is to be pregnant with dreams but nascent with skill, and then to set about the work of cultivating the life of both.
— Michael Yankoski, The Sacred Year

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