Monday, July 30, 2018

An Interview with Myself to Celebrate Wonderland

Author Cynthia Surrisi has hijacked my blog today and is forcing me to answer hard questions. Because she has promised me many fish tacos, penny candy, and trinkets, I am going along with this crazy scheme.

Cynthia, take it away.

Cynthia: Ah, such POWER!!! I am delighted to be commandeering Barbara’s blog for the issue leading up to the publication of her newest middle grade novel, Wonderland

For those of you who are her fans and followers, I promise you will adore this new book. I wondered whether this adorable author could pull off yet another super winner, and sure enough, she has. See, this is why I am doing this. Barbara is useless at tooting her own horn. 

So, let's get started.

On sale 8/28/18

Cynthia: Here's an easy one: What five words best describe Wonderland?

Barbara: Friendship, confidence, dog-love, funny, heartfelt

Cynthia: What is one question you’ve never been asked at a school visit that you would like to be asked, and what is the answer to that question?

Barbara: What do you want young readers to learn from your books?

The answer: I write books to entertain young readers, not to teach them. But, I'd like to think that readers either come away with a better understanding of a character or situation they weren't familiar with - or - relate to a character or situation and find some degree of comfort or hope. 

Cynthia: Which of your books do you most like to read aloud? What part and why?

Barbara: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, especially the scenes with Starletta and Elvis. Starletta is so strange and funny and who wouldn't want to hear about Elvis's Spit and Swear Club? 

Cynthia: What is your writing process? Do you write every day?

Barbara: Call me weird, but every story starts with a title. From there, I spend a lot of time thinking about and getting to know my characters. When I have a hazy idea about the story, I just jump on in. I wish I could outline. I'd love that. But I rarely know where the story is going until the act of writing, which can feel like torture sometimes. I write by hand. I love the freedom of that. I revise constantly as I go along, never leaving anything too messy behind me.

I don't write every day unless I'm on a deadline. Some days I'd rather be walking my dogs. But that gives me good thinking time, which is an important part of any writer's process. 

Cynthia: What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey so far?

Barbara: The best moments have been the times I've won a state book award voted on by children. That's the best validation there is for a children's writer. 

Another moment was when I found myself on a panel at a conference with Sharon Creech. I had adored her books for many years and felt so honored to actually be on that panel with her. A "pinch me" moment.

As for the worst moments, I'll fill you in over a glass of wine some time.

Sharon Creech (left) and me

Cynthia: Tell us about a book you wrote a long, long time ago that was so bad that it didn't get published.

Barbara: I wrote a book called Surf's Up, Nicky Weaver. It was my first attempt at writing for children - long before I discovered my voice. So, of course, it had no voice. It was bland and blah. The only good thing any editor had to say about it came from editor Richard Jackson, who liked that the dog in the story was named Jackson.

Cynthia: Show us a picture of your dogs and tell us what each one would say about the other: something positive and something gripe-y.

Barbara: Here are Ruby and Rocket.

Ruby (left) and Rocket

Ruby would say that Rocket annoys her by wanting to play all the time but also that she loves playing with Rocket (just not all the time).

Rocket would say that Ruby gets more attention than he does and won't play with her all the time.

Cynthia: I heard that an artist made a sculpture of one of the characters in one of your books. Can you tell us about it and show us a picture?

Barbara: A fabulous artist named Karen Hawkins made this amazing sculpture of Bird from Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia. I love it.

Cynthia: What's your favorite herb and how do you use it?

Barbara: Ha! I have no sense of smell so not a very sharp sense of taste. Herbs are just useless little specks of green to me.


Cynthia: Well, there you have it, friends. We’ve gotten the inside scoop from Barbara O’Connor. 

I hope it encourages you to get a copy of Wonderland from your favorite bookstore. I guarantee you’ll love it. 


Cynthia Surrisi is the author of a fabulous series of middle grade mysteries set in Maine: The Quinnie Boyd Mysteries (The Maypop Kidnapping, Vampires on the Run, and A Side of Sabotage) - as well as the hilarious picture book, The Best Mother, illustrated by Diane Goode.  You can learn more about her at her website.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Constance Lombardo is in the House!

It's a Book Birthday!!

 Today I'm celebrating the publication of

 Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island
Constance Lombardo

Being on Celebrity Birthday Cake Wars as El Gato was okay, but now Mr. Puffball is going on reality TV as himself! 

He’ll finally earn the fame and fortune he’s dreamed of since kittenhood. But what happens when the fame wears off and the fortune is spent? What happens to a Hollywood stunt cat has-been? (Hint: tropical island adventure!!)

In this third book in the series, Mr. Puffball and the gang find out just how real reality TV can be. Read all about in Mr. Puffball, Escape from Castaway Island, in stores today! 

Constance is here to answer some questions about her hilarious new book.

Why did you send Mr. Puffball into the world of reality TV?
 My kid and I watch our fair share of reality TV. It’s almost like a ‘get famous quick’ scheme for people (or cats!) Also, reality TV brings out the best and worst in people (and cats!) It was fun to drop Mr. Puffball and the whole gang onto Celebrity Castaway Island (think Survivor – with cats!) and see what happens. 

What was the hardest part about writing this book?
 Mr. Puffball is such a good cat, and a loyal friend, it’s been hard to watch his dream of being a star turn into an obsession that overshadowed all his good qualities. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that happens on Cutthroat Kitchen. I figure if it’s good enough for Alton Brown (whom I love,) then it’s good enough for Mr. Puffball. 

A scene from Celebrity Birthday Cake Wars

 What was the best part?
 So many opportunities to be silly! Baking shows, Feline Ninja Warrior, tropical island weather maps, bug eating, quicksand, etc. Not only do I get to write about all this fun stuff, I draw it. I discovered I like drawing old lizards and monkeys of all ages.

 Any reality TV show fun facts from your own life?
 I’m glad you asked me that. My sister-in-law was on Wife Swap. She’s a belly dancer in New York City, and she traded places with a pig farmer from Wisconsin. With her larger-than-life personality, her episode was amazingly fun and inspiring! 

What kind of reality TV shows would your cat G. G. like to see more of? 
 Well, he’s very into chasing rabbits, so maybe Cats v. Bunnies? And he likes to keep it real, so Real Housecats of Asheville would be very popular at my house. Also, with his competitive nature, I think Cutthroat Kitten would be a hit. 

What’s next for Constance Lombardo?
I’m hard at work on my first picture book (yay!!) Surprisingly, it’s not about cats. It’s about kittens.


Constance Lombardo began drawing when she was 10 years old,
inspired in part by the Illustrators Annuals her dad brought home from the ad agency where he worked, and in part by the fact that
her sister did a drawing and got lots of attention. 

She is the proud author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball series (HarperCollins): Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, and Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island.

Currently, she’s working on her first picture book, Everybody Says Meow (HarperCollins, 2019.) She is represented by Lori Nowicki of Painted Words. Plus she likes cats. 

Thank you for stopping by, Constance.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Side of Sabotage

Guess what today is?

A book birthday!!

The third Quinnie Boyd Mystery:



hits shelves today!!!

And now, for your viewing pleasure,
the world premiere of the trailer 

About the book:

For decades, Gusty's Café has been a beloved staple in Maiden Rock, Maine. Quinnie Boyd's dad runs the café, just like Quinnie's granddad before him. But the family business has new competition when a bad-boy chef from Boston opens his own place in the small vacation town.

The new restaurant takes fancy dining to the extreme. Still, that's not a crime . . . but when things start to go wrong at Gusty's, Quinnie suspects foul play. Are the people behind Restaurant Hubert trying to squash the Boyds' family café? Quinnie is about to find out if it is a coincidence—or sabotage.


Friday, January 12, 2018


My new book, WONDERLAND

Coming Fall 2018

MAVIS JEETER is fearless and bold, but she has never lived in one place long enough to have a real best friend. Her flighty mother has uprooted them again to another new home and taken a job as a housekeeper for the Tully family. Mavis wants this home to be permanent—which means finding herself a best friend.
ROSE TULLY is a worrier who feels like she doesn’t quite fit in with the other girls in her neighborhood. Her closest friend is Mr. Duffy, but he hasn’t been himself since his dog died. Rose may have to break a few of her mother’s many rules to help Mr. Duffy—and find someone who really understands her.
HENRY has run away from home, but he craves kindness and comfort—and doesn’t know where to look for them.
When Mavis and Rose hatch a scheme to find Mr. Duffy a new dog, their lives and Henry’s intersect—and they all come to find friendship in places they never expected.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Visit to Madison County Schools

I recently spent two great days visiting schools in Madison Country North Carolina. WISH is on the North Carolina Elementary Battle of the Books list.

Getting ready to speak to students at Mars Hill Elementary

Being introduced at Mars Hill Elementary by Melanie Morgan, Library Director at Madison County Public Library

My greeters, tour guides and bodyguards at Brush Creek (l to r) Elizabeth, Bella, Jordan and Phoenix

A nice greeting from Brush Creek Elementary School

Brush Creek 4th Graders displaying their copies of WISH

Speaking to students at Brush Creek Elementary

Signing books at Brush Creek
The beautiful mountain setting of Hot Springs School

4th and 5th graders at Hot Springs School

Some great drawings done by students at Hot Springs School

More great drawings from Hot Springs students


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cover Reveal for A Side of Sabotage

Today I have the great pleasure of having my friend and fab middle grade author, Cynthia Surrisi, here for a cover reveal.

I LOVE cover reveals!

Check it out, y'all!!

Isn't it great??

You can buy a copy of this beauty March 1, 2018.

Now let's hear from Cynthia:

Thanks for inviting me to reveal the cover of my new book here on your blog, Barbara! 

It’s the third Quinnie Boyd Mystery, A SIDE OF SABOTAGE and even
more than the first two, it’s a mystery that can’t stop talking about food!  However, in this one, the food is integral to the suspense.

About the book:

For decades, Gusty’s Cafe has served up hot plates of comfort food to the folks in Maiden Rock, Maine. Quinnie Boyd’s dad runs the cafe, just like Quinnie’s granddad before him. But the family business has new competition when a bad-boy chef from Boston opens his own place in the small vacation town.  

The new restaurant takes fancy dining to the extreme. Still, that’s not a crime . . .  even if Quinnie would rather pass on a snooty dish like “raw-beet foam.” But then things start to go wrong at Gusty’s: the dishwasher overflows, the cooler is on the fritz, and worse! 

Are the people behind Restaurant Hubert trying to squash Gusty’s Cafe? It could be a coincidence or —

--or it could be sabotage. 

Since the first Quinnie Boyd Mystery, THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING, readers have been asking me if Maiden Rock is a real place, if they can have the directions to Gusty’s Café, and whether I will reveal the recipes for food I refer to in the book. 

The questions intensified after the second book, VAMPIRES ON THE RUN, where Whoopie Pies were featured. 

I expect the questions will keep coming with A SIDE OF SABOTAGE.

I’ll reveal now that Maiden Rock is a fictional town but it
is based on a small coastal town where I used to live during the summers as a child. Gusty’s never existed, but there was a café where I ate the best Maine blueberry pie ever. 

We also used to order our French fries at this cafe, go sailing for the day, then pick up steamed lobster from the lobster pound, grab
our French fry order and pour it all out on newspaper on the kitchen table. My mother made the dipping sauce that turned the fries into what we called lobster fries.

Here are recipes for some of the most requested items in the
books: Gusty Burgers, Lobster Fries, Whoopie Pies, and Bean Scoop.

Gusty Burgers

The charm of a Gusty burger is that it is served on a toasted, buttered English Muffin. You can make any burger you like from all beef to turkey to veggie, but Gusty makes his from 80% fat beef and grill-cooks it with salt and pepper. There are no fillers or additions to the meat. Then h serves it with a slice of raw onion, and mustard. That’s it. You can add a slice of Vermont cheddar and still have a Gusty Burger. Okay, in later years he condescended to put crispy fried onions instead of raw for special customers. 

Lobster Fries

Many folks are disappointed that lobster fries are not strips of fried lobster. I can’t even go there. I’m more for unadulterated lobster steamed in salt water, picked and handled with a light touch for a lobster roll. I will give you Gusty’s Lobster Roll recipe another day.

Lobster fries are the best double-fried fries that you dip in the drawn butter concoction that is typically used for lobster dipping, except Gusty has his own version. When these things are hot, you weep with joy as you eat them and lick the empty paper when they are gone. 

The Fries:

If you are up for the trouble, cut fresh Idaho potatoes into the long familiar shape. Soak them in water in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Bring oil to 300 degrees F and dry the potatoes thoroughly in a towel. Fry for five minutes, remove from oil and drain on paper towels. At this point you can either refrigerate the fries for later or increase the heat to 400 degrees and fry them again immediately for a finish to your desired crispiness.

The Lobster Butter:

Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat until the solids separate and come to the top. Skim off the solids and add saffron threads, mashed garlic, fresh lemon juice and a little orange zest. Continue cooking on low heat until the butter is infused with the added ingredients. Strain before serving with fries as dipping sauce. 

Whoopie Pies
These are Maine through and through. I can tell you how to make them, but they are fussy and the truth is, they have things in them that you probably don’t want to have on your shelf, like shortening. So, like me, when you have a hankering, I’m going to recommend you order from WICKED WHOOPIES 
These are the whoopie pies I had at the book launch and I think they are wonderful.  They got lots of yums, too. 

Bean Scoop

VAMPIRES ON THE RUN introduced readers to the Bean Scoop. Dominic loved it. It fills the hungry spot in a growing boy and an old lobster man.

This one is more in the combining than the cooking. Make your favorite baked beans. Heavily butter a couple slices of dark bread and scoop the beans on top. Great on a cold day.

I hope everyone enjoys A SIDE OF SABOTAGE and I look forward to seeing whether I get requests for Fish Head Soup.

Barbara, come on over and I’ll cook a Gusty’s lunch for you!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Coming Full Circle

It's no secret that my literary crush, my author idol, my all-time favorite I-want-to-be-her-when-I-grow up writer is Cynthia Rylant.

I gushed about my stalking here.

Eighteen years ago (1999), I sent her a letter to tell her how much she had influenced my writing.

That letter read, in part:

In my journey to becoming a children's writer, I've searched long and hard for my voice - the voice that will bring authenticity, heart, and soul to my writing. I've read hundreds of children's books - and no writer has touched me like you have. I'm sure I've read Missing May twenty times.

Finally I realized why your writing touches me. You write from the heart - and plunk your characters right down in the middle of your heart's home...That's when I knew how to bring my voice to my writing.

Without this letter, you would never know that your writing has touched another writer to the core - and has continued the chain of creative spirit. 

-->Imagine my excitement when she wrote me back!!!

Well, recently, an amazing thing happened.

I received a letter from an author named Sybil Berkey that totally blew me away. 

It read, in part:

As you know, there's great power in stories, and your storytelling has affected me deeply, as a person and as a fellow writer. There aren't many people who've impacted my creative process and expression the way you have. Your work consistently challenges me to dig deeper and always make sure I'm giving my everything - story and style - with well-developed characters.

In short, you've encouraged me to find my true place and voice as a writer.

Reading that note was a magical, full-circle moment for me.

I felt such joy and satisfaction knowing that I was able to do for another author what Cynthia Rylant did for me.

And I was so grateful that she took the time to tell me.

Thank you, Sybil.

Funny how the world works that way, isn't it? 



Monday, September 18, 2017

A New Book!!

What's more exciting than a new book??

I'm super stoked to show y'all the cover of the third Mr. Puffball book coming this spring:

Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island
Constance Lombardo

 Ta da!!

Isn't it fantastic??

About the book:

Are you a Hollywood stunt cat? 

Do you want fame and fortune? 

Could you beat the current feline, Ninja Warrior, in the ultimate challenge of awesomeness?

"Yes, yes, and yes!" says Hollywood stunt cat, Mr. Puffball. 

Finally, the fame and fortune he deserves. But what happens when the fame wears off and the fortune is spent? (Hint: tropical island adventure!)

In this third book of the Mr. Puffball series, Mr. Puffball and the gang find out just how real reality TV can be!

Read all about it when Mr. Puffball, Escape from Castaway Island (HarperCollins) comes out on April 24, 2018. 

Constance Lombardo

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Love this Wish Trailer!!

Check out this amazing trailer for Wish

Made by the amazing Charlii

In Ashley Hayball's 4th grade class

at Amelia Earhart Elementary School

in Indio, CA

Thank you, Charlii!!!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Shout Out to Malcom Bridge Elementary School in Bogart, GA

Major thanks to the teachers and students of 
Malcom Bridge Elementary School in Bogart, Georgia

What a day I had!!

The evening before my visit, I had dinner with some of the teachers and the assistant principal. A good time was had by all.

The next morning, I was greeted by this great sign!

And in the library....this great sign!
Check out this AMAZING gift they gave me!! A wish tree along with lots of wishes from students. Special thanks to 4th grade teacher Lee Rogers for the beautiful flower pot.
So many wishes!!!!
It now has a special place in my office. I will always think of Malcom Bridge when I look at it.
The second graders
The third graders
The fourth graders
The fifth graders
Alexia presented me with boiled peanuts, y'all!!
Joel gave me a great drawing.
Elloree gave me this great #1 Author badge to wear!
The students were so polite and attentive. I had fun presenting to them.
Special thanks to 3rd grade teacher Brittany Breiner, who organized my visit. Thank you, Brittany!!
So great getting to know library media specialist (and TEACHER OF THE YEAR, Y'ALL) Julie Payne (BFFs forever)
Loved meeting principal Susan Stancil

And here I am with teacher Lee Rogers with that great Wish project they gave me (and she painted!!)

Thank you, Malcom Bridge!!