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Mumbles, Mutters, and Shrieks
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1. Top Dentists In Baton Rouge Louisiana

When choosing a dentist Baton Rouge, I am very particular in regard to level of expertise of the individual that I entrust with the care of my family. Here are some tips that I have found helpful. First, do not be afraid to ask questions. Reputable and well qualified dentists are anxious to assure their patients of their expertise for quality services.

When assessing the family dentist, give regard to the atmosphere of the office. Is it clean?  Is his staff friendly and welcoming? Would you be comfortable having this dentist treat your children? Does the dental equipment appear to be state of the art? Do you feel that your family members could establish a relationship of trust with this dentist. These are just some considerations.

It is important to discuss payment options. If you have dental insurance, does this dentist accept your dental policy and does his staff fill out the paperwork. For those of you that do not have dental insurance, it is important to discuss the costs  and payment options.

Actually I could not be happier with my Baton Rouge Dentist, he met all my criteria.

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2. Simply Sunday Catch-Up

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

This week’s Simply Saturday comes to you on Sunday. It’s been that kind of week!

 The first piece of news is for anyone who teaches Speak! Victor Malo-Juvera, who has taught Speak for years, researched and wrote his dissertation about how using Speak in the classroom changed his students’ attitudes about rape myths. He has generously written a summary for my website, and allowed me to link to his full dissertation. If you need data to take to your curriculum director or the chair of your English department, Victor has it waiting for you.

   We’ve had a Barred Owl hooting in the Forest this week.

   I prefer to call it a Bard Owl and imagine that it is composing sonnets.



 Sheila May-Stein, the new librarian at Pittsburgh’s Manchester PreK-8 school, was horrified to learn that her library had a grand total of 40 useable fiction books. She is using the power of social media to make sure that her students have the number and kinds of books that they deserve. I’m putting a box of books for them in the mail tomorrow. If you want to donate, send the books to Sheila May-Stein, Library, Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8, 1612 Manhattan St., Pittsburgh, PA 15233. Even easier, you can order books to be sent directly to the school via Sheila’s Amazon Wish List. A longer blog post gives more information.

 You guys know that I have a very good relationship with my first husband, Greg. He runs a software company that makes patient management software for pediatricians. As part of his company’s charitable mission, Greg coordinates free health clinics in Jamaica, bringing down doctors, nurses, and medicine, and working with local medical teams to take these resources to where they are most needed on the island. Greg made this brief video about this year’s trip that I thought you might enjoy. We’re all very proud of him and the good work that he does.

I’m headed West on Thursday so I can speak to the Arizona English Teachers Association. Will I see you there?

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3. Save A Boob, Win A Shirt

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

My daughter Meredith and I are walking in the Susan G. Koman 3-Day, 60-mile walk in Philadelphia in a few weeks. Meredith needs help to complete her fundraising.

Some people don’t want to contribute because in January, the Komen Foundation nearly cut off funding to Planned Parenthood’s Breast Health Services Project, which provides free breast exams to uninsured and underinsured women. When this went public, a furor ensued. I wrote to each member of the Komen Foundation’s Board of Directors. I’ve donated a lot to Komen over the years and I live in a community with thousands and thousands of women who rely on Planned Parenthood for breast health services. If Komen wouldn’t help poor women get breast health care, then I would no longer help Komen.

I was not alone in that sentiment.

Komen rescinded the decision to withdraw funding. They now give as much to Planned Parenthood’ Breast Health Services Project as they did before the uproar. Planned Parenthood received so much in donations as a result of the publicity, they just started a new breast health initiative to expand coverage of breast cancer screenings and education. There was also a shake-up of the leadership at the Komen Foundation.

So I’m still walking. And donating.

If it is in your heart (and budget) to help, I have a deal for you.

Donate at least $30 to Meredith’s walk and I’ll send you a free Mad Woman In The Forest Tee-Shirt.


When you donate, put your name (or a made-up name) that will show up in Honor Roll of Donors on Meredith’s fundraising page. Or take a screenshot of your receipt. Email me either proof of your donation at madwomanintheforest AT gmail DOT com. Please include what size tee-shirt you want, and what your mailing address is. I can’t guarantee the color, but if you want me to sign the shirt, please let me know.

Save a boob, get a shirt. Got it?



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4. Simply Saturday

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

The weather has cooled down nicely up here. Our wood for the winter arrives on Monday and its a darn good thing; we’re going to need fires in the woodstove to take the chill out of the air very soon.

Banned Books Week is almost upon us. What will you be doing to recognize it this year?

 Bookmans, an independent bookstore with six locations in Arizona, created this video for the 2012 Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out.

I have not heard any banning attempts on any of my books so far this school year. Have the censors moved on to other targets? Even though Speak was restored to the shelves of the high school in Liberty, MO, Slaughterhouse-Five was not.

In other news, Kristen Stewart named Speak as one of the three books that changed her life.

This PSA aired after the first showing of Kristen in the Speak movie. The hotline had never gotten such a tremendous response. Blew. Up. The. Phones.

Someone sent me a link to a recent interview in which she said that the response to both the movie and the PSA helped her see the impact that film can have in people’s lives. The embed code for the video is screwed up, but you should be able to see it on The Hollywood Reporter site. She talks about Speak starting at about the 3:40 mark. She was so, so young when she made the movie, but her talent was undeniable. It’s been fun to watch her develop as an actress. (Though when the press hounds her, I get really defensive and want to start yelling at people!)

Along with writing like crazy, I’m getting ready for my trip to Arizona at the end of the month, where I’ll be speaking at the Arizona English Teacher’s Association Conference.

I’m also trying to pull together the Common Core Standards that can be met by using Chains and Forge in the English or Social Studies classroom. Do any of you have any experience with this?

That’s all for now. Time to dig out a sweatshirt and get ready for a bonfire tonight.

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5. Simply Saturday

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.



Blogging every day in August helped me get back into the blogging habit. I’ll try to blog at least once a week – on Saturdays – to keep you guys up to date about what’s going on up here in The Forest.

We are FINALLY finished with our 507-day renovation!!!! Do you want to see some pictures or would that be TMI?

I am writing again like,…. well, like a madwoman. My health has been good this summer (last year it really sucked) and although I have have a bunch of tests and doctor visits later this month, I think it will be smooth sailing ahead. I’m hoping to give my new YA to my editor by Halloween and then, AND THEN I get to dive into the historical research for ASHES, which will be an absolute delight.

The thing about writing as intensely as I am right now (12-hour days are not uncommon) is that it makes me a fairly boring person. I’m not watching movies or following celebrity gossip. My fantasy football team is in order, however. A girl must have her priorities!

I make time to read, too. Right now I’m reading

a biography of David Foster Wallace, and

which is a fascinating book about slaveholder Francis Scott Key and the race riot of 1835 which took place in Washington DC, and

fiction about the Olympics and friendship and sacrifice.

Now that the renovation is over we are beginning to plan for winter, which means any day now a truck is going to drop off 30-cord of firewood. I wish you all lived close enough that you could help stack it.

What are you reading? Why are you enjoying it?


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6. Simply Saturday

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.



Blogging every day in August helped me get back into the blogging habit. I’ll try to blog at least once a week – on Saturdays – to keep you guys up to date about what’s going on up here in The Forest.

We are FINALLY finished with our 507-day renovation!!!! Do you want to see some pictures or would that be TMI?

I am writing again like,…. well, like a madwoman. My health has been good this summer (last year it really sucked) and although I have have a bunch of tests and doctor visits later this month, I think it will be smooth sailing ahead. I’m hoping to turn my new YA to my editor by Halloween and then AND THEN I get to dive into the historical research for ASHES, which will be an absolute delight.

The thing about writing as intensely as I am right now (12-hour days are not uncommon) is that it makes me a fairly boring person. I’m not watching movies or up to date on celebrity gossip. My fantasy football team is in order, however. A girl must have her priorities!

I make time to read, too. Right now I’m reading

a biography of David Foster Wallace, and

which is a fascinating book about slaveholder Francis Scott Key and the race riot of 1835 that took place in Washington DC, which

fiction about the Olympics and friendship and sacrifice.

Now that the renovation is over we are beginning to plan for winter, which means any day now a truck is going to drop of 30 cord of firewood. I wish you all lived close enough that you could help stack it.

What are you reading? Why are you enjoying it?


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7. Judy Leads Us

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


Don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Judy Blume has posted about her recent breast cancer surgery. You should hop over and read it right now. I’ll wait.

::files paperwork::

::ignores email::

You back? Good. Her blog post contains everything I love about her writing; honesty, clarity, humor and optimism.

A few YA-types were asked this morning to put together some of our thoughts about Judy; kind of a group hug and box of Kleenex (not that she needs it – we do) in the form of an article in the Atlantic wire.  Judy is our hero for both helping us get through adolescence and leading us along the road to being good, responsible authors.

It was nice to say “Thank you.”

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8. What Are You Waiting For? &#8211; WFMAD Day 31

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


We’re here!!

The end of WFMAD, Year 5. How was it?

Writing this blog every day turned out to be good discipline for me. I have been a wretched excuse for a blogger in the past year. A blog post is an essay. I would rather work on my novels than write an essay several times a week. But I seem to have no problem posted to Twitter, or to Tumblr, or to Facebook. No essays required there, I guess.

It takes me an average of about four hours to write a WFMAD blog. (Now you know why it takes me so long to write a novel.) I deliberately did not review my previous WFMAD blogs, but I realize that I may have unintentionally replicated some topics. For those of you who have been following for five years, my apologies.

I’m not sure if I’m going to do this again next year because of exactly that issue; there are only so many things one can say about this bizarre little practice of dreaming up worlds and then committing them to paper. I’m thinking about writing a small e-book that would contain whatever it is I think I know about trying to combine life and writing. Not sure.

Would you rather see the e-book or will you be here in August 2013, waiting for the next blog entry?

What did I do this month? Good question.

Along with writing this blog, I’ve been working on my YA novel every day. And we welcomed our first grandchild into the world this month. And we almost finished the mammoth house renovation project that has consumed the past 18 months. And I went to a lot of doctors and I kept the gardens almost weed-free and took care of various and sundry matters for various and sundry relatives and friends.  Took a quick trip to Montreal. Answered a lot of email. Read some great books. Watched Olympics. Ate astounding tomatoes.

Life happens whether you are writing or not. You don’t have to wait for the right time, or that Muse-blessed idea or a fellowship to a writing colony or a winning lottery ticket or anything. You just have to give yourself permission to take seriously your writing dream.

Do you dare?

Why the hell not?

Is it not better to to have tried – to have lived and loved and failed…. but laughed – than to never have lived at all?

You can do this. You have permission.

I double-dog-dare you.


Today’s Quote

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.”

Neil Gaiman


Today’s prompt: How many days did you write this month? What happened to take you off track? How did you feel about that? What did you do the next day to change things? Looking at the next four months, what time of day is the best time for your to write? (You only need fifteen minutes! Write on the toilet, for cripes sakes!)  What writing project do you want to finish before August 1, 2013?



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9. Whose Story Is it? WFMAD Day 30

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

Google Analytics tells me that this blog is read by people all over the world. Hello, Egypt! Hello, Germany! Hello, Brasil!

Today I am going to focus on an issue central to life in the United States, so I beg forgiveness of those readers who don’t live here. I would, of course, love their opinions about this post, because I imagine their perspective on what I’m about to say would be fascinating.


A lot of white people in the US don’t know they’re white. They think they just are, they think they are the default setting.

Am I talking about you? Might be. Are you white? Do you realize how relatively easy your life has been when compared to people from non-Caucasian backgrounds? Do you understand the phrase “white privilege?”

If the answer to that last question is “not sure or “no,” do yourself a favor and read this classic essay by Peggy McIntosh.

White people have had a whole lot of blood on their hands for the last four hundred years. It is not my intent to address that right now. I want to focus on storytelling. Specifically, white writers writing outside their (dominant) culture.

This brings up the larger question: whose story can you tell?

How should we write about people whose experience is different than ours? Is it appropriate to write from the perspective of a different gender, a different sexual orientation? What about religion? What about age? What about someone from a different ethnic background or culture or country?

I believe the answer is yes.

I believe that artists are called to be humble and lower their own sense of self so that they can be open to the experience of others and transform that into their art.

I believe that artists are called to lead the culture, not to wait until it’s safe to take a stand.

I’ve written from the male perspective (Twisted, Forge), from the African-American perspective during the American Revolution (Chains, Forge), and about children in different countries (a non-fiction book about Saudi Arabia, and my first picture book, Ndito Runs, about a Kenyan girl).

I was criticized by both white and black Americans for Chains and Forge, though not as much as I thought I’d be. The criticism from some white people has been along the lines of “Why do you have to write about that slavery stuff? That was over a long time ago. We’ll never move the country forward if people like you keep bringing it up.” The criticism from a few black people was that these are not my stories to tell.

The reason America struggles so much with the evil of racism is that we’ve never had the courage to study the history of our slavery and deal with its legacy. I’m the Queen Of The Elephant in the Room, folks. I’m going to keep on talking and writing about things that make us uncomfortable.

There is not much I can say to change the opinion of people who think that I shouldn’t write from a slave’s POV because I’m white. No doubt there is a long and painful history behind that opinion. White people have been stealing stories (and music, and dance, and etc.) for as long as we’ve been stealing peoples and nations. I respect that opinion, but I disagree with it. I thought and prayed a long time before I wrote those two books. I spoke to friends and educators of all backgrounds  trying to figure out if and how I could write from the perspective of Colonial-era slaves.

I decided, in the end, that it was my story, too. Slavery is not only an African-American experience. Slavery is an American experience. If I, a middle class white female writer, with all the privileges that entails, could not find a way into the hearts and souls of Isabel and Curzon, then there could be no hope for my country. But to do the job well and responsibly, I had to research the topic like no one ever had before, and then have historians comb over my manuscript to make sure I got it right.

Researching the experiences of other people means checking your assumptions at the door. You need to seek out primary sources that were composed and controlled by the people you seek. You must study the broader world of your character so that when you come across “facts” you can analyze them within the context of their time and space, and with a critical view toward the source of the data. You have to be willing to approach people who know more than you do and ask for their guidance and help. And you must listen to them.

We read to understand people whose lives are different than our own. Some writers will feel called to write about people who are unlike themselves.

You can do it, but you must do it with humility, respect, and a lot more research than you realize.

There are two bloggers you simply must read if you are thinking about writing characters from non-white backgrounds. The first is Debbie Reese, who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. A former professor in American Indian Studies, Debbie is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science with the goal of establishing a library and tribal archive at Nambe. Her wonderful blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature  looks at the way Native Americans are portrayed and represented in children’s literature.

Debbie writes: “Though I am certain that no author ever sets out to deliberately misrepresent who we are in his or her writing, it happens over and over again. Information is the only way to counter those misrepresentations. On American Indians in Children’s Literature, I publish analyses of children’s books, lesson plans, films, and other items related to the topic of American Indians and/or how we this topic is taught in school. “

Her blog is a wealth of information. To start, check out “Authenticity and Sensitivity: Goals for writing and reviewing books with Native American themes,” which she wrote for School Library Journal.

Thank you, Debbie, for encouraging me to write about this topic today!

The other blogger is my friend and wonderful author, Mitali Perkins. You should be reading her blog anyway, if you want to publish for children. But her posts Ten Tips About Writing Race In Novels  and her  “writing race checklist” are very good tools.

Sci-fi and fantasy author Nisi Shawl has a great post, Transracial Writing for the Sincere. And the almighty and ever-amazing Cynthia Leitich Smith (yes, she of one of the best children’s literature websites out there) wrote an “It’s Complicated” post about writing outside your culture.

I suspect I’ll be writing more about this once WFMAD is over, but this is a good start to an important and complex topic. http://madwomanintheforest.com/If you know of other websites or resources that would be helpful for folks looking to write outside their own experience, please let me know in the comments section.

Today’s Quote

“You just keep the words coming. No trick to it at all if the writing is in you. Nothing will come if you haven’t got the stuff. It comes natural or it doesn’t come at all. Everything comes; the people, the place, the story, and you just act like the fella feeding the corn shucker. Keep moving about and filling.”

William Faulkner 

Today’s prompt: What kind of character would you feel completely unable to write about? Why? List five things that would start you on the path to understanding that character well enough to start writing.


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10. Art Is All &#8211; WFMAD Day 29

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

Source: Britannica 


When people find out how busy the last fifteen years have been for me, they are often confused.

“How did you find time to write all those books?” is the common question.

The answer is simple.

I turned off the television.

I’m not an anti-TV vigilante. I’ve always had a television.  I got cable when they started televising professional women’s basketball. Every once in a while I’ll be hooked by a series (Game of Thrones) and Beloved Husband and I will make the time to watch it, though rarely when it is first aired.

We have one television in our house. It’s in the basement, in the man cave. We mostly use it to watch sports.

If you love television, that’s awesome. I don’t judge. Maybe it works for you. Maybe it feeds your Muse. Maybe you are one of those people who can pound out three pages an hour watching Dancing With The Stars. 


If you are one of those people who is always bummed out because you don’t have enough time to write, then count up how many hours of television you watched last week. Did you love each one? Were they all worth an hour of your life? If you could go back and unwatch them, and use those hours for writing, how much time would you get back?


Today’s Quote

“The days you work are the best days.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Today’s prompt: Write out an estimate of how you spend the 24 hours of each day. How much do you sleep? Spend with family? Work the day job? Errands, laundry, organizing your sock drawer, etc.? How much time do you spend writing? How many hours do you watch television or movies? How much time to you spend goofing around on the Internet?



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11. The Quest of Character &#8211; WFMAD Day 28

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

I adore Dr. Maya Angelou. She is my hero.

::Sighs in contentment::

::Pauses to gather self::

Yesterday a reader wrote:  ”How do you plot for characters that don’t really have an outward goal or problem they can solve? I’ve relied on yearning for this, but I’m curious how books like Speak and Twisted came about plotwise.”

It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to complete a novel without knowing what your character wants out of her life. I guess maybe you could write an experimental book that way, but I’m probably not the person to ask about that, because I doubt I’d read it.

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are all about quests. Good word, “quests.” From the Latin, quærere ”seek, gain, ask.” See also: query.  Clearly a word that carries a lot of weight for writers.

Sometimes the quests are small, like finding a pair of jeans that fit.

Sometimes they are larger, like reconnecting with a child given up for adoption or figuring out the meaning of your life before you die. To fall in love. To trust yourself. To craft a life that is balanced. We are all on quests all the time.

The trick to good fiction writing is for the writer to be aware of the main character’s quest (sometimes when the character is not aware of it) and to construct the world of the novel so the interior and exterior lives of the character, and sometimes the lives of other characters, drive relentlessly through the ups and downs of the story in pursuit of those quests.

When I started SPEAK, I did not know what Melinda’s quest was. I just had the voice of a depressed, isolated teenage girl in my head. So I listened to her and I wrote. Eventually I figured out what happened to her and the plot of the book took shape. More or less. She wanted to find her voice. She wanted to be able to tell people what had happened to her, to tell them what she was feeling. But she had to reclaim herself before she could reclaim her voice.

TWISTED was different. I knew I wanted to write about the experience of a teen-age boy. After talking to guys for a couple of years, I knew that my character’s father, his peer group, and the girl of his dreams all had to play a role in the story. I started that book and wrote the first fifty or so pages about six times; each draft was completely different than the one before it. I struggled until the voice of the character came to me clearly, and I understood his quest: he wanted to be a man, but nobody would show him how. Once I knew that piece, the writing flowed easily.


Today’s Quote

 “Don’t be in too much of a rush to be published. There is enormous value in listening and reading and writing—and then putting your words away for weeks or months–and then returning to your work to polish it some more.”

Sharon Creech


Today’s prompt: What does your character thinks she wants in the course of your story. What does she really want, but is not yet aware of? What obstacles prevent her from attainting what she wants? Whose world changes when she gets what she wants?

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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12. Advice and Whatnot &#8211; WFMAD Day 27

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

Question: How do I get an agent or editor to give me feedback on my manscript?

Answer: With one exception*, the only way you’re going to get feedback from an agent is to be signed up by one. Not all agents offer feedback. Mine doesn’t.

An editor who likes your manuscript but feels it isn’t quite good enough to be published yet may offer to buy it “on spec.” That means that publication is not guaranteed, but the editor is willing to work with you on a revision and give some feedback. This is how SPEAK was published; the editor bought it on spec, gave me feedback, I revised and then it was published. If I had not done a good job on the revision, it would not have been published.

BTW, I didn’t have an agent when I sold SPEAK. I didn’t have an agent for my first seven books.

*The exception is that SCBWI conferences often have manuscript critique services. You send in a specified number of pages ahead of time and at the conference, you get a face-to-face meeting with the published author, editor, or agent who critiques the manuscript. I got very helpful feedback from Harold Underdown about FEVER 1793 this way.

Question: Have you ever not listened to a story idea or a character in your head?

Answer: Nope. If they speak, I scribble. Not every idea or character is solid enough to be turned into a full-length novel, but at the very least, it’s good writing practice.

We’re almost to the end of this year’s writing challenge. What questions would you like me to answer, or topics to tackle in the next few days?

Today’s Quote

“Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.”

Eudora Welty

Today’s prompt: Dig a little deeper into your character so you can understand her better. Where do her family’s roots like? What were her great-grandparent’s lives like? What would she do if she found a bag with $500 on the street? What about $5000? Who in her ife is likely to die in the next year? What would she do if that happened in front of her? Ask the unasked question and you’ll find riches.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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13. Faith &#8211; WFMAD Day 26

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


I spoke to more than a thousand kids a day at the Youngstown State University English Festival for three days at the end of March. I saw them in “smaller” groups throughout the day, then gave a final presentation to everyone before they went home. It was a life-changing experience to be in a room with a thousand kids who were completely stoked about books and reading and writing. I adored all of them… and their teachers who worked very hard to prepare them for the experience.

I signed books for about three hours each day. Several times the organizers had to cut the line short so that I could give my next presentation. A girl named Faith was crushed when she made it to the front of the line (after waiting an hour) only to be told that she would have to wait until after the presentation. (I had already snuck several kids past the organizers and was pushing the limit in a big way.) The look on her face  slayed me, so I wrote her name on my arm and swore a holy oath that as soon as I was done talking, I would find her and sign her books.

Which I did.

Faith was patient and mature and responded beautifully to a situation that she was not happy with. I will always remember her. Having the word “Faith” written on my arm at the end of the three-day festival summarized perfectly my relationship to my work and to my readers. (The photo above was taken shortly after I signed Faith’s book.)


Today’s Quote

“Art glows with faith even in its weakest parts. At every moment, writing is an act of self-confidence – the sheerest, most determined, most stubborn self-belief. You CAN have faith and doubt at the same time; the most insecure writer on the planet has faith that shines just as bright as her doubt, and she deserves props for that. It might be hidden deep, she might not feel it and you might not see it, but it’s in there, or she wouldn’t be able to write.”

Kristin Cashore

Today’s prompt: What is it about your writing that you want to give up on? What causes you to think of quitting? Who would be happier if you stopped writing? Who would be crushed? How will your life change if you quit? Make a promise to that scared part of yourself that is having doubts. Write down that promise and put it where you can see it daily.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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14. Shining, Hidden Stars &#8211; WFMAD Day 25

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


I woke up at 3am today in a total allergy meltdown. Medicine, shower, tea. It was clear I wasn’t going to get back to sleep so I sat outside and watched the Milky Way overhead. All in all, it was not a bad way to start the day.

Which is why I am feeling brave enough to say a few things about revision.

The concept of Revision is one of the hardest for new writers (and a few not-so-new) to wrap their heads around. You’ve put years into your story, you understand the lives of your characters, you’ve been polishing that climatic scenes in chapter 37 until it glows in the dark and by the gods, you are not going to change anything. You can’t. You shouldn’t, because it is perfect.

I get it.

I totally get it, because writing is hard. Writing can be a real bitch sometimes, and after a while, you can’t see the forest for the trees, or, more precisely, the story for the words. In a dark corner of your mind, you recognize that there are aspects to your story that don’t make total sense, or perhaps a few inconsistencies of character, or unmotivated plot twists, but it’s hard, and  you really don’t want to… change… anything.

Let me give a few quick tips (I can talk about this for days on end, but it’s the weekend and I’m sure you have other things to do.)

1. Revision is your friend. Trust me on this. The mindset that you have about this is critical. If you dread and disparage revision, you won’t do great work. You changed the universe by writing the drafts that you have already written. Change it again by refining the story. Revision is not punishment for a life of sin; it is how you breathe life into your story.

2. Early drafts are created with the passion of a new love affair. Revision is undertaken with the trust and commitment of a good marriage. There is still a lot of love there, but it is a love that seeks the truth and what is best for the book.

3. Make sure that every scene has a purpose; it must move the plot forward, give us critical insights into a character, or both. You will find scenes that are little more than a bunch of people standing around and talking. Either take whatever dialog is important (assuming there is some) and weave it into a different scene, or change the setting so that there is action and growth.

4. That last point is super important, so I will yell it loudly. BE WILLING TO CHANGE THE SETTING. This hit me upside the head when I was revising Part Two of my novel this week. I was cranky because so many scenes were set in the same places – school, home, bus, blah, blah. What was missing were settings that would  give the reader more information about the life of my main character. And then my brain went a little fuzzy and drifted off to that place between thinking and daydreaming and suddenly it hit me: LAUNDROMAT! When I finish this post I’m going to make coffee, grab some breakfast and go work on a Laundromat scene. (I’m very excited about this!!)

Did you see what I did there at the end of Point #4? I said I am excited about revising Part Two. I am going to insert a new scene in a Laundromat. I am probably going to the condense the activity that is currently in Chapters 34-38 into two chapters, because really? There’s a whole lot of silly drama in those chapters that is useless. But the point about the deepening relationship between my main character and her friend Gracie, that is critical, so critical that I want to slow down the unfolding of it. So I will keep that big, scary thing that happens at Gracie’s house in the about-to-be-remade Chapters 34 and 35, then I’ll cut to Chapter 39. The Laundromat scene will probably become the new chapter 41.

The sun is up now and I can’t see the stars anymore. But I know they are there, patiently shining and wait for the dark. The great potential of your story is waiting, too.  You must take a risk, walk into the night. Be willing to look at your story honestly. Listen carefully to comments from your early readers. Accept that inspiration and revision are the inhale and exhale of writing. Breathe deeply and get to work.


Today’s Quote

 ”A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?”

Susan Sontag


Today’s prompt: Spend some time on the CCBC’s The Westing Game Manuscript website. It shows Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (1979 Newbery Medal winner) as a work-in-progress, including pages of her story notes, and crossed-out, marked-up pages of the manuscript. Then brainstorm a list of scenes in your work-in-progress that could be cut, moved or added.



  Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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15. Curing The Suckitude of Writer&#8217;s Block &#8211; WFMAD Day 24

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

If you’ve never had writer’s block, go away.

If you’ve never had writer’s block, you should be writing this blog.

If you say you’ve never had writer’s block, I don’t believe you.

Writer’s block is actually several conditions masquerading as one. Saying, “Help me, I have writer’s block” is as useful as going to your doctor and saying, “I feel icky.”

You must figure out what kind of writer’s block  you have in order to cure yourself.

Blank Screen Writer’s Block, Type 1 – You stare at the screen or the empty page and you cannot think of a single thing to write. You want to write, but you have no ideas or words.

Blank Screen Writer’s Block, Type 2 – You stare at the screen or the empty page and you are so overwhelmed by ideas and words that you don’t know where to start.

Ticking Clock Writer’s Block – You put off starting a project and now the deadline looms and you are paralyzed.

Hysterical Monkeys Writer’s Block – Tribes of hysterical monkeys inhabit your brain, screaming about what a crappy writer you are. This, understandably, makes it hard to write anything.

Obsessive Compulsive Writer’s Block – Whenever you sit down to write, you are seized by the uncontrollable urge to clean your oven, scrub your roof shingles, or alphabetize the entire Internet on a hand-crocheted doily that you will then use as the signature item in the Etsy store that you’re going to open in time for the holiday sales rush. You forget about your novel until your writing time is up and you snap out of your fugue state.

The first cure is a simple one. Step away from the desk and go for a long walk. Or a run. Or swim. Something that will warm the muscles and cool your fevered brain. You might want to carry a scrap of paper and pencil with you (not in the pool) in case a line or two pops up. Regular exercise is an under-appreciated part of the writing process.

If you are suffering from Blank Screen Writer’s Block, Type 1 or 2, grab a book off your shelf. Any book that you enjoyed will do, though I prefer poetry for this remedy. You can also use the Poetry Foundation’s browsing function or mobile app. Copy a few lines from a poem or a novel and then treat those lines as a prompt and freewrite from them. (Do not use those borrowed lines in your novel; that would be called “stealing.” Use them to kindle your imagination only.)

Ticking Clock Writers Block can be cured by telling your editor or professor or whomever that you are going to be late, or by pulling up your big-girl pants and recognizing that fretting about how much time you don’t have is actually a way of creating drama in your brain so you don’t have to deal with the real issue; what is the next sentence you are going to write.

Hysterical Monkeys Writer’s Block is best dealt with by picking up all the monkey shit they are throwing at you and fling it back in their faces. Write on an index card in large letters, “CHILL OUT. IT’S ONLY A DRAFT.” and post it just above your screen. Be sure to preserve the first draft of your novel so that you can compare it to the final draft. That will shut up those dumb monkeys.

Obsessive Compulsive Writer’s Block is kind of magical. Recognize what you are doing and why, and then very quietly sit down with paper and pen. Write a list of all of the things that you could do when you are in this mindset, from braiding your nose hair to teaching the cat how to operate the coffee maker. The list can contain up to 4,000 items. Then list five things that you want to do for your story, like brainstorm character names, decide on a setting for one chapter, or writing a short bit of dialog between Character A and Character B. The trick is to give yourself a small, manageable task and ease into the writing.

There are several other small variants of writer’s block, but I don’t want to discuss them publicly until I finish my quantitative analysis on them. In fact, I might make this the topic of my dissertation, and then I can submit papers to pompous academic journals and maybe I’ll be invited to present at the Pompous Academic Writing Forum next year in Mongolia, and I should look up how much it costs to fly to Ulaanbaatar and…..

Or I could just sit down and write.

Yeah, that’s what I really want to do.


 PS – For another author’s take on the whole “To MFA or not to MFA” question, read Maureen Johnson’s blog.


Today’s Quote

 “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

Hilary Mantel


Today’s prompt: Write a letter to your writer’s block. Describe how it works and how you really feel about it. Then serve it with eviction papers and write out precisely what you are going to do the next time it kicks in.


  Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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16. The Best Part About Bad Guys &#8211; WFMAD Day 23

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

So my ex-husband and his wife spent the night at our house last night….

You could use that half-sentence as a writing prompt. Those characters all lined up in row – the narrator, her ex-husband, the ex-husband’s new wife and whomever the character(s) are that lead the narrator to use the word “our,” create conflict and tension just by being in proximity to each other.

Conflict – interior and exterior – is a critical component of fiction. Without conflict you have characters limping around on the page boring themselves and the reader into a coma.

It is tempting to make your main character the good guy and create a bad guy who is the source of much of the conflict that your character must overcome in your story. I’ve critiqued a lot of manuscripts that are structured that way. It’s a good start, because it lets you get the characters in the page and basic plot elements.

But you can do better.

Characters who only have “good” qualities and habits are boring. So are antagonists who are purely evil. These are what editors call “flat” characters because they are one-dimensional.

Make sure that your characters are like real people, that they have positive and negative qualities and quirks. Give the good characters flaws, bad habits and a few awful secrets. Allow your bad characters to have redeeming qualities and wonderful secrets. It will ramp up the tension and give you more opportunities for plot twists.

By the way…

My ex-husband and his wife did spend the night at our house last night. They were up here to drop off her son at a college that is about an hour away from our house. We had a great dinner and enjoyed celebrating the fact that the village of parents that the four of us created about a decade ago has launched the final kid from the nest and into his adult life.

Here are the four of us at our daughter’s wedding in May.

Isn’t that a nice change from divorced people who are always angry and spiteful? A real-life plot twist!


Today’s Quote

 ”I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

Stephen King


Today’s prompt: Come up with a sentence that puts two characters who might understandably be at odds with each other in a setting or situation that is going to make sparks fly. If you have the right degree of tension, the next fifteen minutes of writing are going to fly out of your fingertips.


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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17. Co-conspirators &#038; Other Partners In Crime &#8211; WFMAD Day 22

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


I was once on a panel with the amazing and wonderful Walter Dean Myers, who is serving now as our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. (I mostly sat quietly and absorbed everything he had to say.) Walter was asked about the amount of competition and jealousy among those of us who write for kids and teens.

“We are not competitors,” he said. “We are co-conspirators. We support and encourage each other so we can make the very best books for our readers.”

This is a common sentiment among the authors that I know. It may help explain why so many children’s authors have critique groups or critique partners who are also children’s authors.

It can be a challenge to find the right critique group. I went through several when I was starting out, trying to find people whose approach to the work was similar to mine, and whose opinions I could trust. I tried a couple of groups in which I was the only person writing for kids. That was a nightmare. I had a critique partner for a couple of years who eventually soured on the business aspects of writing and gave up her writing. I finally found an amazing group that met once a month for an entire day. I worked with them for almost ten years until I moved out of the area. Since I live in the boondocks and travel so much, it’s been hard to be a regular attender at the great group  I found up here. I trade manuscripts with a few trusted writer friends and get feedback that way.

If you write for kids or teens and you are in search of critique partners, your local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators) will be able to help you. (If you don’t belong already, join SCBWI. It will be the best money you spend all year.)

 Critiquing friends and other co-conspirators are not just there to point out the holes in your plot. They’ll support you as you support them through the ups and downs of the creative journey. Writing is a solitary craft. Making sure that you have people in your life who respect and understand your work is vital.


 Today’s Quote

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

C.S. Lewis, who was in a critique group with  J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and  others


Today’s prompt: Write about a time when you worked on a creative project with a friend. See if you can go back to your childhood for this.

Bonus points – if you don’t have a critique group or a critique partner, start the search for one today.


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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18. Fresh Starts &#8211; WFMAD Day 20

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


That adorable baby in the photo is our first grandchild, born yesterday afternoon. Welcome to the world, Logan!!

It’s a good thing I got in about five hours of writing yesterday morning, because from the time we left for the hospital, my head has been a total muddle.

What do you do about your writing when life throws you a curveball? The entrance of a grandchild is a glorious, positive thing, but it does distract a bit from my intensity and focus on my novel. Getting bad news; a car accident, illness, death of a loved one, are even more distracting. If you are taken away from your project, it often feels impossible to find your way back into it.

First things first – give the people you love the time and attention they deserve. If you are caring for a sick child, or a terminally ill parent, that’s where your energy and heart goes. If it’s a joyful distraction, like a new baby, same thing, though in my experience, it’s easier to stay connected to creative work during the happy times than the sad.

That being said, try to keep a window into your creative soul open. You might hear lines of poetry in your head. Drawing might soothe you. If you have enough concentration, look at a small piece of your work-in-progress. Just a chapter, or maybe a scene. Polish it; add some detail, trim the dialog, make sure your transitions are solid. The key is to stay connected with your work in a small and consistent manner.


Today’s Quote

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

Neil Gaiman


Today’s prompt: Look at the photo of a newborn (say, for example, that incredibly handsome and intelligent fellow above) and write a list of possibilities for his life. Instead of the “what ifs” you’re writing “what could bes.”

Then take a baby photo of someone you know well, someone whose life story you are familiar with. Pick one or two of the possibilities you already listed, and freewrite about how that possibility did or did not develop for the person you know. Don’t feel compelled to stick to the facts at hand; if your imagination takes off and invents a fictional character, run with it.


  Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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19. Kitty Litter &#038; Turds in Dialog &#8211; WFMAD Day 13

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


Question 3: Any plans to write the final book to Chains – Forged series?

Answer 3: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! As soon as this YA is done, I will dive into the final book of the trilogy, called ASHES. I can’t wait.

Question 4: You’ve never seen or met your characters, I assume: what techniques do you use to construct dialogue? How do you translate REALNESS into what they say?

Answer 4: I hear dialog in my head. It is often where my stories start; I’ll be out running or driving and I’ll hear the main character talking. Even though dialog comes easily to me, I find that I revise it countless times. In early drafts I’m often unaware of the nuances of the relationships between characters. As the book comes together, I might realize that a short line of conversation in chapter three sets up the Enormous Plot Twist in chapter 37. Also, my early drafts of dialog always, always, always, contain kitty litter.

“Kitty litter?” you ask, with a polite, nervous smile.

Indeed. Kitty litter. And occasionally turds.

Kitty litter is the stupid fillers that like to gum up a sentence so that the important words get lost. People speak in short, often broken sentences. If your dialog reads like narrative instead of sounding like it could be spoken by living human beings, look for the kitty litter. Cut mercilessly to bring dialog to life.

The turds are clunky bits of backstory that stink up perfectly good dialog. “As you remember from our childhood days at the lake, Jethro, I never learned to swim.” I wind up with dialog turds all the time in early drafts, largely because I need to remind myself of backstory elements. You must go through and remove these horrors when you are revising!

Today’s Quote

“[I start with an emphasis on] character, definitely. And by character I mean a person drawn full-round, not a caricature. E. M. Forster refers to “flat” and “round” characters. I try to make all of mine round. It takes an extrovert like Dickens to make flat characters come alive. But story as such has been neglected by today’s introverted writers. Story and character should grow together; I think I’m lucky so far in that in practically everything I’ve tried to write these two elements have grown together. They must, to give an impression of life being lived, just because each man’s life is a story, if you’ll pardon the cliché.”

William Styron

 Today’s Prompt: Eavesdrop in a public place and jot down the bits of conversation that you hear around you. Cafeterias and food courts are good for this. The New York subway is an exceptionally rich spot. The point is not to steal something for your story, or to be arrested. It’s to get you to hear the rhythms of real speech and get a sense for what they look like on the page.

If you have a work in progress, ask a friend to read and record several of the dialog passages for you. Play back the recording and mark what sounds natural and what sounds clunky. Toss out both the turds and kitty litter and start fresh.


 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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20. How High School Ghosts Can Feed Characters &#8211; WFMAD Day 14

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.



Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion about the NPR’s Top 100 YA List. The good thing about lists and awards is that they tend to provoke conversation – sometimes debate – and in that way the titles of many more books are shared. And that’s a good thing.

But I really hope NPR follows up with some good journalism about YA and children’s literature by people of color as part of their  attempt to report about and for a larger audience. Let’s keep bugging them about that, shall we?

Question 5: How do you begin a story when you have numerous ideas circling around in your brain?

Answer 5: It does not matter. JUST START. Write them all down, every single one. Scribble down the ideas on a sidewalk with chalk. Then take a photo before it rains. Or open a doc on your computer or grab a pen and a piece of paper. It does not matter. JUST START. The ideas don’t have to be in order. They do not have to be complete sentences. You’ll probably find that as you scribble, they will grow, mutate, and give birth to new ideas. This is good!!!

When you have captured all the ideas buzzing around in your brain, take a day or so away from them. Let them cool down. Come to my house and help me weed my gardens while you’re waiting. Then go back and read them. Circle the ones that make your heart beat faster. Those are the ideas that you should be pursuing right now.

Today’s Quote

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” 
                                                                                  Lorraine Hansberry

Today’s Prompt: I want you to think about someone that you went to high school with. It should be someone you’d say “hi” to in the halls, but not the person with whom you shared your darkest secrets. Or any body parts.

Write about what that person might be like today. Construct a family or a lack of family. A job. A house, or maybe she’s living under a bridge. Start with your memories of that person (which will be shaded by how you felt about them), but let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Hint: Try to make your details as specific as possible. That she likes coffee is not specific enough. Precisely how does she take her coffee? Where does she buy it? Who does she drink it with? In what kind of cup or mug?


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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21. Your Turn! WFMAD Day 15

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

We are half-way through the challenge. It’s been interesting to see which kinds of posts generate the most feedback. In order to tailor the rest of the month to your needs, I need you to respond to these two questions:



Today’s Quote 

“You’re writing, you’re coasting, and you’re thinking, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever written, and it’s coming so easily, and these characters are so great.’ You put it aside for whatever reason, and you open it up a week later and the characters have turned to cardboard and the book has completely fallen apart. That’s the moment of truth for every writer: Can I go on from here and make this book into something? I think it separates the writers from the nonwriters. And I think it’s the reason a lot of people have that unfinished manuscript around the house, that albatross.”

Jacqueline Woodson 

Today’s Prompt: Whose diary (of the people you know) would you like to read? (For the purposes of this prompt, you obviously have to pretend that everyone you know writes in a secret diary every day.)

After you have chosen your person, write a diary entry from her/his POV about an event that you were at.  The trick here is to take information that you already have (about the event itself) but filter it through the perception of someone else.)

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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22. Lessons &#8211; WFMAD Day 16

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

(OMG, don’t you want to be the dog in this picture????)

Several of you wrote to me yesterday and said how inspirational you found Jackie Woodson’s quote. I thought you would really appreciate something she tweeted late in the day: “My book is falling apart. I should keep writing but grabbing a towel & heading down to the water. Maybe the answer will ebb in with the tide.”

Perfect, isn’t it?

Even more perfect than you might realize because I’d been struggling with that feeling for about five days until late on Tuesday when finally, FINALLY, the line that totally helped me understand abo-so-freaking-everything about a critical character in my novel showed up.

(I felt just like the dog in the pic above! I tweeted my reaction: “Sometimes, after plugging away at a story for months or years, the perfect line drops into your lap. That line is a gift.”)

What’s the lesson here, besides the observation that tired, desperate authors vent on Twitter?

Writing a novel is never pain-free. In fact, I’d venture to say that most, if not nearly all, of the time you are writing a novel, you’re going to feel like crap. You have to find a way to simultaneously a) feel like a stupid, arrogant idiot who can’t write anything that is good enough to put on the bottom of a bird cage and b) believe in your dream and your talent and your vision of the story.

The secret is perserverance.

You muddle through the muck and keeping revising and eventually the story becomes less crappy. Marginally so, but you take strength from any source, right? As Jackie pointed out in yesterday’s quote, most people get to that awful hellhole, that spot where they have lots of pages filled with tangled plot lines and confusing characters and they become overwhelmed by the crappiness of it all so they bury the manuscript – and the dream – in a box, and tell their friends that really, they always wanted to learn how to play the glockenspiel much more than they wanted to publish their book.

I’m not judging here. To count the number of times I wanted to do that, multiply 365 days by twenty years. Seriously.

I think the reason I wound up with a career as an author is that I have a vivid imagination and I am epically stubborn. Every time I wanted to quit, the part of me that punched the boy from across the street when he teased my little sister rises to the surface. I. Don’t. Back. Down. Not from bullies, not from stupendously dreadful drafts, not from nothin’.

Make peace with the fact that you are uncomfortable with the quality of your work for most of the writing process. Take the energy you used to waste being afraid that your writing sucked, and apply it to making your writing sing.

Today’s Quote

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”

Chuck Palahniuk


Today’s Prompt: As fast as you can, write a list of all the things you have learned in your life. Do NOT be philosophical or abstract. “You can’t change other people” won’t cut it for this exercise. “Don’t eat spinach at a business lunch because it’s hard to tell if it’s stuck in your teeth” does.

Bonus: Write a story about you or a character learning one of these lessons, or doing the opposite of the piece of advice.


 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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23. Oprah and Me for Twenty Years &#8211; WFMAD Day 17

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.

In 1992 I was a stay-at-home mom with a 5- and a 7-year-old. I worked part-time as a freelance journalist, writing for magazines and the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. And I watched a LOT of the The Oprah Winfrey Show. It had been a lifeline to sanity from the days when I had a newborn and a toddler who resisted toilet training. It gave me a sense of community. It reminded me to read. It nudged me along my spiritual path. I adored it.

My life as an author began on September 7, 1992. (I’ll post more about that red-letter day in a few weeks. Probably on September 7.) That was the day I put my youngest daughter on the bus to first grade. That was the day I committed myself to becoming an author.

I kept writing for the newspaper, but I began to tell people that I was trying to become a children’s author. Most people would look at me with the kind light of pity in their eyes and say, “But don’t you want to write a real book?”

(In their pointy heads, real = for grown-ups.)

I made every mistake a wanna be writer could make. I sent out first drafts. I wrote what I thought would be published instead of what was in my heart. I collected hundreds of well-deserved rejection letters, until finally, FINALLY, I got The First Phone Call from an editor saying that Henry Holt want to publish a picture book of mine. That book, Ndito Runs, came out in 1996.

Most people looked at me with the kind light of pity in their eyes and said, “That’s nice, but when are you going to write a real book?”

My mother-in-law, Anastasia, never did. She said, “I bet you’re going to be on the Oprah Show. She likes all kinds of books!”

In 1999, Speak was published and named as a National Book Award Finalist. That was also the year that Oprah Winfrey was awarded the National Book Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gold Medal in recognition of her efforts to promote reading. I saw Oprah across the room at the cocktail party for the authors before the dinner. I was too chicken to do anything more than steal glances and admire her shoes. (She looked amazing.)

I knew that I’d never have a book featured on Oprah’s show, though I will admit I’d fantasize about it. I kept writing and writing and eventually I was getting more contracts than rejection letters. Anastasia’s faith in both Oprah and me never wavered, not even when I divorced her son. (One of the most peaceful divorces in the world, btw. That’s also a post for another day.)

Well, Anastasia, the day you told me would come is here.

Chains was chosen for Oprah’s 2012 Kids’ Reading List!!!


(Excuse me for a moment while I get up and dance wildly around the house again!!!)

There are many other wonderful books on the list, too, so be sure to check out all of them.  Haven’t read Chains, yet? Then read this new review.

I lift my mug of tea and salute Anastasia and Oprah for two decades of encouragement and support! Thank you!

This extremely glamourous photo is of me and Anastasia the morning of my daughter Meredith’s wedding a few months ago.

Today’s Quote

“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”

                                                                                                                                          Oprah Winfrey

Today’s Prompt: Write down this date: August 17, 2032. How old will you be? Next, jot down five of your writing dreams. Pick the most outrageous of those five dreams and write a paragraph or two – from the perspective of August 17, 2032 – and describe how that dream came to life. Then list the three things you can do TODAY to bring yourself one step closer to that dream.

If you haven’t talked to your mother-in-law recently, give her a call or send up a prayer to her today.

 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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24. Attitude Adjustment &#8211; WFMAD Day 18

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


This picture? Elephant playing in waterfall? This should be you writing.

No, that is not an unkind remark about the way you look in those pants. I am not implying that your life is that of a caged animal forced to entertain strangers and attend to all bodily functions in front of a crowd that throws peanuts.

 I am pointing out that many writers get caught in the “tortured artist” mindset. And if you are a product of the American work ethic (i.e. you don’t feel like a good person unless you are working, nose to the grindstone eighty hours a week), then you are likely to slip into a frame of mind in which you regard writing as laborious, exhausting, work.

This is compounded by the neurotic tendencies many of us have about the quality of our work, and made even gloomier if you are hoping that what you are writing might one day pay the bills.

Sound familiar?

I’m not judging. I recognize this behavior because I fall into it all the time (as do my closest writer friends, who shall remain nameless because I love them).

The trick is to be aware when you stumble into the Bad Attitude Sewer Hole.

If the act of writing is not its own reward then why bother? Life is short, you’re going to die, the world is full of beauty and adventures. There are about a gazillion things that you could be doing with your writing time that would be fun and rewarding.

The next time you find yourself acting like a dramatic third-grader flinging herself on the couch, back of hand to her forehead, moaning about how hard it is to be a third grader and nobody understands and she hates doing it and she wishes third grade would just be finished magically and she needs a piece of chocolate cake now or she is going to faint…. stop.

Creating is fun. It’s a blast. Exercising our boundless imaginations feels magnificent. It changes our reality and strengthens us.

Yes, there is much about the publication process that is discouraging. (I’m going to talk about the whole Money Thing tomorrow.) Yes, it takes longer than you want to write a novel and it is confusing trying to keep all those pesky chapters straight.

But you are playing. It’s OK to enjoy writing. If you do, the chances you’ll make time for it everyday increase dramatically.


Today’s Quote

“Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I’m a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I’m doing it. There’s a place in my head that I go to when I write and it’s so rich and unexpected – and scary sometimes – but never ever dull.”

Julie Myerson


Today’s Prompt: Think of the most duty-bound or boring person you know. (Or make one up.) Think of an incident that will snap that person out of her daily drudgery and recognize that there is more to life than working and having folded sheets in the linen closet. Write the scene that changes this character’s life.


 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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25. The Money &#8211; WFMAD Day 19

Originally published at Mad Woman in the Forest. Please leave any comments there.


So I promised that I would talk about money today.

Such a depressing topic.

It’s not that money is evil. In fact, it’s rather lovely, especially when your children are hungry, or they have outgrown their sneakers for the third time in a year or they want to live in something other than a tent, especially when it snows.

But money, as Mother was so very fond of pointing out, does not grow on trees.

So you get a real job to earn money. That takes about 40 hours a week. Plus commuting time. And if you have family, they take up an addition 100,000 hours a week. And then you have to make time for things like dentist appointments, getting the car inspected, taking the hamsters to the vet, etc.

And then you have to make time for writing. Right?

Many people (like me) feel that if they could just get their novel published, it would be the end to their money woes. So in addition to all the creative pressures they feel when writing, they add financial pressure. And then? And then? Some people shoulder even more burdens. They hope that the novel they’re writing will let them get a divorce, it will stop the bank from foreclosing, it will cure their smelly feet, it will make a lost love return to their arms.

Those kinds of expectations will destroy your writing and break your heart.

This post does a pretty good job explaining the math of publishing. It is rather dreary. If you prefer to focus on the success stories of J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, go ahead. I don’t blame you.

Looking at my experience and that of other writers I know who are making a living and paying the bills from writing, this is how you can get there.

   1. Write a great book.

   2. Get an agent to represent you.

   3. The agent sells the book to a publisher.

   4. You celebrate, but you don’t quit your day job.

   5. Over the next decade, write and sell five more books.

   6. And sneak in whatever kind of publicity you can in your free time so that…

   7. All of your books earn out their advances and you have a steady royalty stream.

   8. Calculate how you’re going to pay for health insurance.

   9. Decide to keep the day job a while longer

   10. After 15 years and 8 or 9 books, take a deep breath and quit the day job.

(Note: if your significant other has a great job, you obviously have more flexibility.)

Are you still with me? Still want to be a writer?

Now that you know the icky part, what questions do you have about the money and publication side of things?

Today’s quote

 “The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut


Today’s prompt: Write your success story, the People magazine version, about how your novel is going to put you in the ranks of  J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. Be sure to include the wording of the note that you’re going to send me when you prove this blog post completely wrong!


 Scribble… scribble… scribble…

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