Wednesday, November 26, 2014


This arrived in my mailbox yesterday, offering yet another reason to be thankful: my PUBLISHERS WEEKLY CHILDREN'S STARRED REVIEWS ANNUAL.  It was like getting the PW star all over again, for FERAL (featured in the YA thriller section).

To view the review in full, head to PW

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I've got quite a bit on my Thanksgiving plate this year...and it's not just gravy and mashed potatoes, either.  I'm up to my eyebrows in global revisions for my very first indie release.  And I'm having a blast with it.  This year, I'm thankful for new life chapters and exciting projects...

Wishing all of you a bountiful Thanksgiving!

I recently spotted these guys in a field near my house.  They took one look at me and skedaddled.

Friday, November 21, 2014


This dates me, I'm sure, but in the movie SINGLES, Matt Dillon's in this gone-nowhere band (Citizen Dick--oh, how that cracked me up in the '90s)...Anyway, when Dillon's character runs into somebody who's never heard of the band, the response is always, "Yeah, well, we're big in Japan."

I got this really cool review in my inbox yesterday from the Auckland Libraries' Teen Scene, and I've been going around everywhere saying, "Yeah, well, I'm big in New Zealand." 


"Claire Cain is a award winning student journalist who took a stand and told the truth to save her best friend - an act of truth and loyalty that lead to a vicious beating that almost cost her her life. Months later Claire and her father leave behind the memories of that night by moving to the small town of Peculiar, Missouri where her father will be during his sabbatical - a chance for both of them to have a fresh start. 

But in matter of days after their arrival Claire stumbles across the body of Serena Sims in the woods, her corpse surrounded by the feral cats that seem to be taking over the town.

There are spooky similarities between the two girls - the least of which is their love of journalism and the truth.  The more Claire learns about the town and the her new classmates, the more Claire realises that life in a small town can be just as complicated and twisted as the big city.  With Serena haunting her ever step, Claire is in a race against time to solve the mystery of her death.  But even in a small town there can be big secrets - secrets people are willing to kill to keep.  

Feral is a genre defying book that will keep you guessing what is coming next, skipping from genre to genre are you move from chapter to chapter - revealing the true nature of the book only in the last few pages.  Appealing as a murder mystery, as a thriller, as a mind bending look into the human soul/nature - Feral will keep you on your toes from start to finish.  A haunting and addictive read about love, loss, friendship, and hope."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


#WeNeedDiverseBooks has been a trending for several solid months for good reason--we do need to infuse our children's books with a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.  A recent classroom Skype absolutely solidified this point in my mind...

I've been doing Skypes with young readers since THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY released last February; I've talked to library groups and advanced classes and reluctant readers (the reluctants are my faves).  I've also discussed the book with readers of several different racial backgrounds; an entirely African American group recently made an especially strong (actually, completely unforgettable) impact.

When the faces of this group came to life on my screen, I figured they'd immediately picked up on the fact that Auggie and Gus were African American while reading THE JUNCTION.  I was excited to hear what they'd have to say about race and the book.  Instead, the faculty member who organized the reading group told me she had to point out that Auggie and Gus were not white, as these readers had initially assumed.

We went on to discuss why I chose this particular treatment of race: Auggie has such colorful, poetic language throughout that I didn't think she'd rely on simple labels.  She'd be poetic in her descriptions of her skin color (comparing it to mud, etc.)  I also felt it was important to show Auggie living in a multi-racial neighborhood; in the book, Auggie's friends, teachers, and neighbors are white, African American, Asian, etc.  I wanted the faces in Auggie's surroundings to be every bit as varied as the faces in her sculptures.  (They'd provide some artistic inspiration for her.)

But even though we continued to have a great conversation, I have to admit, I was floored.  Their assumption about race couldn't have been based on the fact that I'm white; I don't have a photo on the jacket of THE JUNCTION.  I'll admit I generally come to a book expecting the MC to be white--primarily, I've always assumed that's because I'm white...or is it?  I'm suddenly wondering if it's not that MCs (of a wide swath of genres and age categories) are so predominantly Caucasian as well.

These students made me proud of the fact that I've chosen to depict MCs of different races (and sexes--one of the protagonists in PLAYING HURT is a male).  I'm glad I've chosen to reach beyond what is immediately familiar to me.

More than that, though, these students have also inspired me to continue painting my characters with a wide variety of brushes.  And I hope other authors are finding similar inspiration...

Friday, November 14, 2014


I'm often asked what pieces of real life make it into my books.  While I've never based a character directly on a person I've known in my personal life, I do find my lifelong Missouri surroundings have become a significant part of nearly every story I've ever penned.

Specifically, water has been part of every YA I've released.  Here's a short vlog explaining why water shows up so frequently--with glimpses into my immediate surroundings.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Does anything in this world feel quite as special or personal as an actual physical letter arriving in the mail?  I'm a big fan of the handwritten, of stationery and funky pens.  Of Christmas cards and thank-you notes that require a stamp instead of an "@" to arrive at the intended destination.

So of course I love this program.  THE RUMPUS / Letters for Kids allows your young reader (or your entire classroom of young readers, if you've got one of those) to get letters straight from MG / YA authors.  Sometimes the letters are illustrated or handwritten; often, they come with a return address so you can reply to the author.  (Becoming pen pals with an author!  How cool is that?)

This week, those in the program will get a letter from yours truly.  Auggie in THE JUNCTION collects old stuff from her grandpa's rash hauls and reinvents them; I love old stuff, too.  My office is brimming with cool thrift store / auction finds and collections: an old enamel bookstore sign, Enid Collins box bags, art...One of my favorite pieces is a '30s-era King Kong movie tie-in figurine.  Those who receive my letter will get photos of some of my crazy collections.

Be sure to get your own kids involved with THE RUMPUS / Letters for Kids program...and let me know about your own collections.  Have you been collecting since you were a kid?  Do you have an office overflowing with cool finds?

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I'm up to my eyebrows in global edits for my first indie work, which is also slated to be my first New Adult.  It hit me, as I plunged into the opening pages, that my strategy for revision changes with each book.  A few of my favorite approaches:


I'm such a fan of this particular strategy, I've often suggested it to writing friends who find themselves stuck.  (Admittedly, it works better if you're a good typist; I'm pretty fast, so it suits me.)  The great thing about retyping (either problematic chapters or sections or the whole manuscript) is that you have to think about every single word you put in.  Even if you're fast, you don't want to type something you don't have to...and even if you're fast, you move through the manuscript at a much slower pace.  You find yourself rewording passages as you go, rethinking what you're doing in a way you never would simply rereading passages.  I know it sounds like a massive undertaking, but it works.  Seriously.  If you just plain don't know where to take a WIP, I highly recommend printing your manuscript, opening a new file, and retyping the whole shebang.  I'd bet just a few chapters in, you'll have an "Ah-ha!" moment.


I'm intrigued by non-linear writing; I've never tried it during the first-draft process, but as I've never been a fan of the first draft, I'm interested to find out if this helps to make that first run-through less of a struggle.  For revisions, this process works great if you've gotten detailed feedback--either from an agent or an editor.  I recently used this method to revise an MG; I read through the notes I received, and I attacked the scenes that interested me the most, regardless of where they appeared in the story.  Then I read through the manuscript in full, smoothing out the smaller wrinkles as I went. 


This is a natural fit for the book I'm working on now, which is divided into four large "parts."  But it also works if you can (just for the purpose of revising) divide your book into at least three or four big chunks (think: setup, rising action, then climax and resolution).  What I'm doing is rearranging the events, developing characters, etc. in one section, finishing it up completely before even thinking about the next chunk.  It's far less stressful (and feels more manageable) to think about a single smaller portion of the story than it is to try to juggle all the pieces of an entire book all at once. 

...I'm off to get back to that WIP.  But while I'm working, what are your own favorite revision strategies?

Monday, November 3, 2014


These guys are crawling all over my house.  I believe the old Ozarks superstition is that if woolly worms have large brown sections in the middle, you can count on a mild winter; the more black they have on the ends, the rougher the cold season.

That looks like an awful lot of black to me, actually.  I might be typing away on my AA-battery-powered Alphasmart by candlelight yet again this winter.

Dang it.

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