Monday, April 30, 2012

Authors in April: Day 1

Brooklands Elementary


With my greeter and helper, Cole

With the winners of the bookmark contest

Origami boats with messages inside, just like in The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

Lost Pet signs

Gourmet Dog Biscuits

North Hill Elementary

This mom/volunteer made an amazing sign featuring the authors' books.

It even had a blinking Vacancy sign for Greetings from Nowhere

The students did art based on Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia

Long Meadow Elementary

The fifth graders designed their own hotels inspired by Greetings from Nowhere

The fourth graders made origami boats for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

Authors in April - Arrival

Getting Ready for the Big Week

Authors in April

Rochester, MI 

Saturday, arrived at the beautiful Cobblestone Manor.
Saturday night, dinner with my pal, author Sarah Miller

Sunday morning, Amy Schuster meets me with a smile and a gazillion books to sign.

Now I'm joined by Kathy Ruedisueli (left), me, and Jenny DeCuir (right)
(left to right) Author Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Kathy, Author Mary Casanova, Jenny

Signing, signing, signing with authors Shelley Pearsall (left), Maryann Cocca-Leffler (middle), me

I took books to bed with me. Hey, it was a LOT of books, people!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

My grandfather

  • He was a mechanic. He worked on cars wearing a crisp white uniform and a cool hat.
  • My grandmother called him "Mutt." I have no idea why. (But there is a character in my forthcoming novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo's, named Mutt in his honor.)
  • He had a big, big, big garden (or at least it seemed big to a little girl).
  • He grew peanuts in that garden. My grandmother kept a pot of them boiling on the back of the stove at all times.
  • He always kept a pair of pliers in his pocket and threatened to pinch our noses with them.
  • He filled a deserted chicken coop with sand for my sister and cousins and I to play in.
  • Every day he took a nap in a mysterious room called a "sleeping porch." No one was allowed to enter that room but him. (So, of course, we all did.)
  • He grew fig trees and had little concrete chicks that marched through the yard.
  • He always wore a hat and his pants too high.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

According to scriptwriting formulas, in addition to the central question and the catalyst (inciting incident), backstory is also a critical element of the setup of the story.

Backstory is:
  • the stuff that happened before your story starts
  • all the vital information we need to orient us to the story

Backstory is sometimes also interspersed throughout the story. (Often, backstory needs to be interspersed throughout the story in order to maintain the emotion of the story - or perhaps the tension. But you need to gauge how much is too much and how much is just the right amount to accomplish your goal.)

Rule #1 regarding backstory = Don't give the reader too much!

We only need the information that clarifies or enhances the story in some way.

If backstory doesn't clarify or enhance the story in some way, we don't need it and the reader won't care about it.

If we don't need it and the reader doesn't care about it, take it out!!

Recycled from 11/13/07

Friday, April 20, 2012

Authors in April

I'm headed to Rochester, Michigan for a week to participate in their annual Authors in April event.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lisa Graff is in the house!!

Lisa Graff
Today I have the pleasure of being joined by the uber funny, talented author Lisa Graff.

We're celebrating the publication of Lisa's hilarious new middle grade novel, Double Dog Dare. This book has Lisa Graff written all over it: funny, quirky, upbeat, and full of heart.

Want to win a free copy? Details following the interview below. 

Lisa was here back in 2010 discussing her delightful Sophie Simon Solves Them All.

I raved about her amazing The Thing About Georgie back in 2007.

I had the pleasure of working with Lisa when she was an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. We clicked from day one and have been clicking ever since.

So without further ado, let's get started.

Okay, Lisa, be honest now. You write so well about kids double dog daring one another to do crazy stunts. Which one of the dares below would you REALLY do?

I double dog dare you to sing a chapter of your book on the subway.

I double dog dare you to tap dance in Central Park with your underwear on your head.

I double dog dare you to do any one of the dares in Double Dog Dare and put it on YouTube.

Oh man, I am such a chicken when it comes to dares! (That’s why I just write about them.) But if I had to pick, I would probably go with the YouTube dare. I could do the one Kansas has to do in the book where he duck tapes an ice cube to the crook of his arm until it melts. It sounds painful and sort of awful, but if a fictional character can pull it off and still look cool, surely I can too, right???

I LOVED those pics you used to post on your blog of you doing beauty experiments. I double dog dare you to post some of those.

Ha, all right! (For those not in the know, several years ago I attempted to follow all of the beauty advice from six beauty magazines for six months. It was very weird and very exhausting, but I did get some good stories out of it.) 

Here’s a photo of me just after I got my bangs cut. (This was the year of the Heidi Klum straight bangs phenomenon. They were all the rage.) I think this was a day I also had to wear “natural make-up” of some sort. Those were my favorite days, because my habit of showing up at my job with plum eye shadow and “cat-eyes” liner was starting to make everyone I worked with think I was insane.

Lisa with her Heidi Klum bangs

This second photo is just after I dyed my hair black for the experiment. I had never dyed my hair before, and I was SO. FREAKED. OUT. ABOUT. IT. It turned out less terrible than I’d feared, but it’s certainly not my best look. Bordering on goth. Luckily the “cotton candy pink” lipstick and the fake eyelashes I’m sporting let you know right away I’m not a vampire.


Last time you stopped by the blog, you told a fantastic story about a money jump you participated in when you were in middle school. Care to share it with my new readers?

Sure! I love retelling my most mortifying moments. :)

Well, when I was a kid, Big Bear Middle School would hold an assembly at the end of every semester, and as part of this assembly, the names of all the kids who’d received straight-A’s on his or her most recent report card were put into a hat. Whichever student had his name drawn from the hat got to climb down from the bleachers and participate in a “money jump,” in which he would—in theory—leap across a long, taped-together strip of dollar bills. However far you jumped, that was how much money you got. I can only imagine that the school administration thought that this whole event would be a middle-school kid’s dream. Getting paid for good grades! Who wouldn’t want to earn all A’s?

What our teachers failed to put together, of course, was that the kids who usually got straight-A’s were the exact kids who did not want to show off their long-jumping skills in front of the entire student population at an assembly. The worst part of it all was that after your jump, Mrs. Rouse, the language arts teacher, would make a HUGE SHOW of counting out the money you’d earned. “Twenty-three! Twenty-four!” Everyone in the auditorium would count along as she slapped the bills into your hand. So not only did the whole student body have proof about what a nerd you were, they knew exactly how much money they could steal from you later. As a straight-A student and a nerdtasticly terrible long-jumper, those moments right before they pulled the name out of the hat were the most terrifying of my middle-school career.

So, of course, on the last day of seventh-grade (my gangliest, ugliest, least put-together year ever) my name was pulled out of the stupid hat. I’m pretty sure I tried to melt to the bottom of the earth, but I was pushed down the steps of the bleachers by my extremely-helpful classmates. And it was even more horrible than I’d imagined it would be. Because I did not just jump badly, like I had all those times in gym class. Oh, no. I actually FELL OVER, flat on my awkward butt. Mrs. Rouse helped me to my feet (nightmare, nightmare), and then she led the entire school in loudly counting out my winnings. “Three! Four!” That was it. I earned four whole dollars. It was . . . character-building.

If you had to have another job, what would it be?

I’d want to be the host of a funny science show for kids, like Bill Nye the Science Guy. (Lisa Graff the Science . . . Raft? I’m still working on the name.)

What are some of your favorite non-book-related activities?

I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, tarts, everything. Once when I was an editor at FSG I convinced the entire company to participate in a “pie festival,” where anyone who wanted to brought in a pie, and we all spent an entire lunch hour stuffing our faces. I’m pretty sure everyone I worked with thought I was nuts, but it sure was tasty!

What’s next for you?

I have a very silly sci-fi YA book coming out this July. It’s called MOTHERSHIP, and I co-wrote it under the pen name Isla Neal. It’s my first young adult novel, and the first of a trilogy.

Lisa's next book
 I also just finished up copyedits on a new middle-grade novel, A TANGLE OF KNOTS, which comes out in Spring 2013. That’s a bit of a departure for me, too, since it’s the first book I’ve ever written with magic in it. And there are cake recipes sprinkled all throughout the book, so I finally got to put my baking skills to good use!

Thanks so much for having me, Barbara! I always love to stop by. :)


Here's the info on the Double Dog Dare give-away:

Philomel is giving away a copy of Double Dog Dare to one blog reader. All you need to do to enter is to email Lisa at graff [dot] lisa [at] yahoo [dot] com with the subject line “GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE.” The winner will be chosen at random on May 1st.

And you HAVE to check out this awesome contest for kids to build their own Rube Goldberg machine - with super prizes!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The story behind The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

today's Children's Literature Network's Bookscope


the story behind

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis


Lisa Graff is here tomorrow!

Lisa Graff will be here tomorrow sharing some fun stuff and giving away a copy of Double Dog Dare.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I won the Staalberry Award

Ms. Staal's class gave The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester a Staalberry Award!

Thanks, y'all!!

Writing Tip Tuesday

How to Kill a Story in 16 Easy Steps

Step 1: Start the story too early.

Step 2: Take too long to set up the story and introduce the central question.

Step 3: Add too much back story.

Step 4: Have an unclear central question (i.e., the reader isn’t sure what the story is about).

Step 5: Tell the story with narrative instead of showing it with action and dialogue.

Step 6: Have no turning points (i.e., the story moves from one scene to another in a straight line).

Step 7: Continue on too long after the climax.

Step 8: Have an undeveloped character with unclear (or no) motivation.

Step 9: Tell character traits, tell character feelings, tell setting (instead of showing).

Step 10: Make sure the character is not active in moving the story forward, is not instrumental in solving the problem, and does not grow or change by the end.

Step 11: Switch points of view.

Step 12: Add too much interior monologue.

Step 13: Add unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, characters.

Step 14: Repeat yourself.

Step 15: Explain yourself.

Step 16: Use too many dialogue tags, tags that explain (e.g., he apologized), tags that don’t denote speech (e.g., she sighed; he smiled), or tags with –ly adverbs (e.g., she said reluctantly).

Recycled from 11/6/2007

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lisa Graff is coming to Greetings from Nowhere

Don't forget to stop by Greetings from Nowhere on Thursday, April 19, for an interview with Lisa Graff and a chance to win a copy of Double Dog Dare.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lisa Graff blog tour schedule and give-away

My friend, author Lisa Graff, will be stopping by Greetings from Nowhere on Thursday, April 19.

Be sure to stop by for some fun stuff from Lisa and a chance to win a copy of her new novel.

Here is her blog tour schedule:

Tuesday, April 10: Mundie Kids

Thursday, April 12: Smack Dab in the Middle 

Sunday, April 15th: Pragmatic Mom Blog

Monday, April 16th: Novel Novice

Tuesday, April 17th: Mundie Kids

Wednesday, April 18th: From the Mixed-Up Files 

Thursday, April 19th: Greetings From Nowhere

Friday, April 20th: Reading Everywhere

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

Are you a septugenarian?

Do you have any living relatives?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

According to scriptwriting "formulas", one of the critical elements in the setup of a story is the central question.

  • The central question is simply what the story is about or what the problem is.
  • The story should ask a question in the setup that will be answered in the climax.
  • The central question should be revealed as early as possible. (This is particularly true for young readers. They don't want to have to keep reading and reading to find out what the heck the story is about. In fact, if you take too long to reveal the central question, they will stop reading and go watch Sponge Bob.)
  • The central question must be clear. (Again, if it is not clear, young readers will go watch Sponge Bob instead.)
  • Once the central question is raised, everything that happens in the story after that should revolve around or relate to that question.
  • The climax of the story answers the central question (e.g. solves the problem).
Recycled from October 30, 2007

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fiction Questions for $400, please

(Choose "1 team" and click "Start.")

(My favorites are Fiction Authors for $400, Fiction Questions for $400, and Really Tough Questions for $300.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012


The raw bar
The plate
The view
Custard in an eggshell
And what's Easter without the bunny?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My 5th anniversary

I started blogging FIVE years ago today!!!

I started on Livejournal. 

This was my third entry. (My first two were boring.)

I still love that woman!!

This was my first Blogger entry for Greetings from Nowhere.

I've blogged almost every weekday since 2007.

Do the math.

1300 blog posts.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

From a fan of How to Steal a Dog:

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I like Mookie because of his three fingered hand when he waved with his three fingered hand.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Scholastic Storyworks

I had the great honor of being a judge for this year's Scholastic Storyworks' Create-a-Character Contest.

Thousands of students all over the country submitted their ideas for a character: name, physical description, hobbies, problems, etc.

I chose a winner and wrote a story using the character.

How could I not choose a character named Roy Rigatoni, whose hobby is reading?!

But in case that doesn't work, here are a couple of sample pages:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

One of the most critical elements of the setup of a story is the catalyst (sometimes called the inciting incident).

The catalyst begins the action of the story.

It is the moment the story begins. The reader now knows what the story is about.

  • The catalyst should come as early in the story as possible.
  • The strongest catalyst is an event or action, but it can also be situational (a series of situations that add up to reveal the story).

I'm a firm believer in jumping right into the story. The longer you take to let the reader know what the story is about, the more you risk losing her.

(Often, however, the reader needs to be grounded in setting and character before the story action begins. In those cases, the catalyst won't necessarily be in the first page or two - but a tad later. The operative word here is tad. You'll want to get the action going ASAP.)

During revision, take a look at your manuscript and see if you can literally point your finger to the very spot where the action of the story starts.

Then ask yourself if that spot is as close to the beginning as possible.

Next, take a look at everything that comes before that spot and ask yourself if it can either come later - or be deleted altogether.

Remember my experience with David Small pinpointing the catalyst of my story - which was two chapters later than it should have been? 

A lesson I've never forgotten.

Recycled from October 16, 2007

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Big Kahuna Round

It's here at last: the final Big Kahuna Round of School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books:

The Perfect Author Visit (Part 2)

 Continuing from Part 1 of my visit to Hampden Meadows School in Barrington, Rhode Island:

Group #4

Group #5
Group #6

Group #7

Group #8

Group #9
This group showed me pictures they had drawn.

They wrote me lovely, heartfelt thank-you notes.
They gave me flowers.

This group represented the whole 4th grade to thank me.