Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Sisterhood

In June of 2014, Kirby Larson invited Augusta Scattergood, Susan Hill Long, and me to have a writing retreat at her beautiful vacation home in Washington state. We all jumped at the chance.

What a special time we had!

Here we are with Winston the Wonder Dog. (l to r): Kirby, Susan, Augusta and me

Writing all day.

Then critiquing (so important).

Then breaking to watch the sunset and drink a little wine.

And here's the coolest part:

All four of the manuscripts we were working on at that retreat were published this year!

What are the odds? Seriously.

Here they are: 

AND Augusta's book and my book are publishing on the SAME DAY (August 30).

What are the odds?

Here's the fun part: we call ourselves the Butterfly Sisters. Here's why (as I remember it....we might all have variations of the story).

In an early draft of WISH, I had a scene where the main character hurls some very harsh words at her friend. Harsh and sharp. I then wrote that she wished she could take those words back...scoop them up like butterflies in a net.

My brilliant peers pointed out to me that that metaphor didn't seem appropriate for gathering harsh, sharp words.

Dang it! They were right. 

But I loved that phrase so much I was determined to keep it. I just moved it to a more appropriate place.

So we had a running joke about butterflies.

And all four books have some sort of reference to butterflies. (Go read the books and see if you can find them.)

So there you have it. 

AND...this year Kirby invited us to have another retreat. BUT...Delta Airlines dealt me a lousy hand and cancelled my flight. So I couldn't go!!!

But we got together to critique the best we could:

Long Live the Sisterhood!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Love That Cow

Okay....could I love that cow any more?
I don't think so.
Do I adore the work of Sharon Creech?
Um, heck, YEAH!

I love this book so dang much.

"...the smells and the heat and the noise were pouring in the windows and squeezing us from all sides."


"It seemed they didn't want to waste friend effort on someone who was leaving town."

*Sigh again*

"The voice full of honey but the words...not."

*Big heaving sigh*

This book VIBRATES with action and sounds.....the WORDS:



And then there is this:

"Sometimes an hour is a blink
A flash
A wink, a flicker
A dashing gallop
And sometimes
An hour stretches
Second by second
An endless
of drips"


Who even thinks up that word?

I really, really, really loved this book.

And so will you. 

But, um, sorry.

Pub date 8/30


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Student Blurbs for WISH

I adore these blurbs for WISH from Patrick Allen's awesome 4th graders in Colorado.

"This is the best novel of the year!" --Kinsey 

"Soon it will have a New York Times best seller stamp on it!" --Norah

"I WISH it were out sooner!" --John

"Wishes might not come true, but reading this book made mine come true!" --Michael

"Great mix of comedy and emotion. This book makes wishes come true!" --Caleb/Hannah

"Now I know what to wish on." --Ben

Monday, April 18, 2016

Shout Out to McDonald Green Elementary

Big thanks to Mrs. Weeks

 and all the great students at

McDonald Green Elementary School

 in Lancaster, SC.

I had a blast!


Sunday, April 17, 2016


I could NOT be prouder of these amazing students at Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington, Rhode Island!

Thank you to Ms. Mitchell and her creative students!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Another Hampden Meadows Shout-Out

I've visited Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington, Rhode Island, for many years.

They are without a doubt one of the BEST schools for an author to visit.

The kids are so well prepared.

They've read almost all of my books.

They've made fantastic art projects and posters about the books.

They decorate the hallway.

And best of all, they are as excited to meet me as I am to meet them.

You can see some of my past visits HERE.

But now I've moved down to North Carolina - too far to visit.

So we did the next best thing, thanks to teacher Mrs. Mitchell and media specialist Melanie Roy.

We Skyped.


And once again, I was absolutely blown away by the time and effort the kids put into my books.

Check out these great projects.



 And one student made an amazing stop motion video that I will post when it's available on YouTube.

Thank you, Hampden Meadows!!!


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cover Reveal for Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America

Drum roll, please......







Isn't it the coolest?? 

Mr. Puffball, El Gato and the gang take to the road in search of some fantastic footage for their buddy film. 

Will Benedict Cumbercat sabotage their every move?

Will they meet an adorable yet irritating kitten named Pickles? (Hint: yes.) 

Will Rosie, as director-in-training, ever stop megaphoning ‘Cut!’?
Find out when you hop aboard this fast-paced travel adventure – 

It’s van-tastic!

This second book in the series, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins) by Constance Lombardo releases on September 27. 

So, run.....

don't walk...

to your local indie bookstore

on September 27.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Great Day at Harbins Elementary School

I had a great day at Harbins Elementary School 
in Dacula, Georgia.

for their One School-One Book program.

I was greeted by a super sign.

The students had made some terrific frogs like Tooley Graham in the book.

I got some chocolate frogs!

More frogs and even a letter!

Here I am talking to the K-2 students over their closed circuit TV.

Amazing media specialist, Kathy Schmidt, showing me their Water Wonder 4000.

I signed a lot of books.

Third graders

Fourth graders

Fifth graders

Thanks for a great day, Harbins!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness

The number one quality of books I love is a distinct writing voice.

Well, hold onto your Twinkies, cause this one's got voice and then some.

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

This is Kate Beasley's DEBUT novel. 

But she writes like a long-time pro.

You can't help but fall in love with dear Gertie.

The story races along at a pitch perfect pace.

And the illustrations are adorable.

But the writing voice!

And the humor!

Aunt Rae's nostrils would flare, and she'd heave herself off the sofa with a humph and start cleaning the house so violently that Gertie felt sorry for the dirt and grime.

Seat-stealer she thought in the nastiest voice she could imagine, and she felt even better.

Jessica Walsh sounded like someone who needed to have dirt rubbed in her face.

What kind of person said bath tissue? A Mary Sue Spivey kind of person, Gertie guessed.

Gertie watched the back of Mary Sue's head, and she wondered why some people read better and had yellow hair and got to wear lip gloss and meet famous people and sit in the front row. And she wondered why she wasn't one of those people.

They were the gray crayons nobody cared about. They were the so-so students. They were the last-place losers and the skinned-kneed nobodies, and Gertie was their queen.

I could go on and on but I won't.

I'll just tell you that you should read this book.

The bad news?

It's not out until October 4.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Cynthia Surrisi is in the House (and giving away a book!)

I'm excited to welcome fellow Asheville middle grade author, 

Cynthia Surrisi, who has stopped by to answer some questions about her terrific new middle grade novel: The Maypop Kidnapping, just published by Carolrhoda Books.

Don't you just love this cover?

From the publisher: In the coastal village of Maiden Rock, Maine, Quinnie Boyd's teacher has disappeared. Quinnie thinks it's a kidnapping case, but her mom, the town sheriff, just thinks the teacher has left town. Still, Quinnie's going to follow her instincts that something's wrong.

AND.....you can win a signed copy!


Just leave your name and email address in the comments.

That's it!

Go ahead.

Do it! 

Winner will be drawn March 21.

But now....let's chat with Cynthia:

Why did you choose to write a mystery for your first book?

I have been a mystery reader since childhood. I read every mystery that was available to me, which included all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. I had a friend in 4th grade (I've blocked out her name and you'll see why) who owned all of them, but she would only loan them to me one at a time and only for one overnight each. Mean, huh?

That meant I had to read them under the covers with a flashlight. In retrospect, it enhanced the spookiness of the stories and certainly kept my pulse racing. There was no question as to whether I would turn the next page. As a result, I was really tired a lot in 4th and 5th grade, but the rhythm of a mystery became central to my reading experience.

Do you find there is anything unique about writing a mystery?

Starting in 4th grade, I crafted my own series in spiral bound notebooks. It was called The Twins of Cherrystone Farm. Wow, were those two sisters meanies to each other, but they stuck together when it counted. They solved the mysteries of the stolen gym socks, scandalous unsigned notes, angry valentines, and tons of other middle grade drama of the time. They were filled with tons of spooky suspicions that never went anywhere. For good or ill, they are long lost.

Here's the budding author in kindergarten:

It wasn't until I got to my MFA program years later and had an adviser who was an experienced mystery writer that I learned that you don't write a mystery from the perspective of a reader. Meaning, you don't just start and lay down all kinds of fun and intriguing things with no clear idea of how you will tie them all together. It's too easy to plant then lose track of clues. Chekhov said it best: One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep.

So now, for me, mystery writing requires a very detailed plan. I have written four of them, and while I allow myself a lot of freedom in the actual story narrative, I plan out the mystery in a treatment. I write the backstory, then the opening, then the big reveal. This way I know where I'm going. And I keep track of the clues and red herrings in a chart. 

The blurb on the cover of your book says: The only thing that would make this book better is if it came with a Gusty Burger and a side order of lobster fries. I've never flown through a book so fast to find out whodunit.  

What exactly are Gusty Burgers and lobster fries, and is this a foodie book?  

Protagonist Quinnie Boyd's father owns Gusty's cafe. And yes, the cafe is central to the setting. In the book, everybody's eating and arguing over what they like and don't like. A teeny off-season town needs a little commerce. In this case, it's the lobster pound, the cafe and the real estate office.
A Gusty Burger is a burger on a toasted English muffin with onion and mustard. And don't try and add anything else to it or you'll be run out of Maiden Rock. Once someone asked for ketchup and Gusty shook his head and said, "Mister, I won't serve it to you that way."

The really special and delish dish at Gusty's are the Lobster Fries. These are crispy French fries served with a side of a melted butter, lemon and saffron sauce to dip them in. I'm leaving out the super secret ingredient. The locals love them and the summer people go nuts for them. Aside from that, Gusty serves lobster roll on a buttered split top bun (secret recipe), clam chowda, garlicky cole slaw, blueberry pies with those little Maine blueberries, and whoopie pie sliders. Oh, and every table gets a beat up wooden bowl of Cheese Nips.

What's the story on Moxie?

Don't get me started on Moxie! Well, okay. It's the first bottled soda in America and draws its flavor from gentian root. Originally, it was marketed as a cure-all and called Moxie Nerve Food. Moxie bottle wagons dispensed it at fairs and amusement parks all over the nation, but it really only caught on in New England, specifically Maine. 

The company's motto is "Live your life with Moxie." Who can't support that? I fall on the love-it side of the Moxie fence. Others, not so much. 

In the book, Quinnie's mom and teacher strongly disagree on the tastiness of the local beverage. 

If you want to learn more about the history of this very interesting carbonated soda, click HERE.

Okay, it's time to talk about the nuns.

Those two sisters in Maypop have been in the back of my mind for many years, waiting for their turn in a story. They spring from my early years in Catholic school and my six-year-old desperate plea to Santa for a nun doll. 

Here is the nun doll I located on Etsy to replace my long lost Sister Josephine doll. It's like she's never been gone. 

I can't explain my fascination with nuns. Perhaps it's because they were role models. Perhaps it's because they were costumed. I don't know. All I know is that I have always wondered what they might be like as fun characters, and now they exist in the book. 

I never wanted to be a nun, but when I was six, I did pin a scarf on my head like a veil and march imaginary children around the house telling them to hold their buddies' hands and not dilly dally. Like I say, role models. 

A craft question: Do you write what you know?

Writers talk about this all the time, don't we? The question is what does know mean in this context? My work arises out of a grand mishmash of everything I have been exposed to and experienced. I create from whole cloth, often riffing off of memories of place, incidents and people. Nothing is documentary. Nothing is biographical, except to say that when I challenge a character to feel something, I draw from my personal emotional well of feelings. I go to my heart. My mom was nothing like Sheriff Boyd, but I've had mother-daughter conflicts. I know what that tension feels like, how it can ache and how it can challenge a tender young soul.

You moved to North Carolina recently from Hawaii. What have you found to be the biggest difference?

I'm originally from Minnesota and I knew a lot of North Carolina, so I haven't experienced any surprises. Not so with our pets. Our two dogs and cat had never experienced squirrels, turkeys, deer, cold, or snow. Watching them come face to face with Western North Carolina nature has been pretty hilarious.

This is a picture on day one. They're hyperventilating after seeing their first squirrel.