Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Please Visit My New Website and Blog

This blog account will soon be deleted.

All previous and new blog posts have been moved to  Please visit me there.



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

NEW SALE! King of the Tighrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

This is my last post on this blog platform. You can now find me at, though I'm not blogging with any regularity right now.

As the transition continues, I'm thrilled to share this exciting news.

The announcement made by my agent Erin Murphy, of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

The announcement made through Publisher's Weekly.

Kids books ROCK!

Monday, August 17, 2015

This blog is moving. But first...I have news!

  • Please note that this blog is moving to, along with my website. You'll find more updates there.

I had the loveliest weekend after receiving a Friday afternoon call from SCBWI National. Out of the giant pool of applicants, consisting of mega-talented authors I admire, I won the 2015 Book Launch Award with STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, forthcoming from Lee and Low in 2016.  Wowzer!
I am honored, especially because SCBWI, through conferences, online resources, workshops, quality speakers, and an overall awesome and generous membership, has been on this long journey toward publication with me. They have been an invaluable part of my education as a writer. For years, I have been a volunteer with my local chapter, further cementing the organization as part of my family. This recognition is sweet indeed.
These award funds will be immensely helpful as we launch STEP RIGHT UP into the world.
Thank you, SCBWI!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Two Causes Worth Supporting: We Need Diverse Books and Never Counted Out

Writers and Illustrators in the kidlit world are special people, don't you think? Our goal is to wrangle empowerment, entertainment, engagement, and hopefullness for children. Sometimes, remarkable things blossom from this community of children's writers and illustrators. Today, let's talk about two movements that we should all support:

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization aiming to bring more books about diverse characters and more authors of color into disadvantaged classrooms. Additionally, they aim to support authors through grants and education while enlarging the conversation at conferences, etc. Check out the Indiegogo campaign site. Watch the brief video by well-known authors and consider donating toward the $100,000 goal. I just did!  And check out Elizabeth Bluemle's article on Publisher's Weekly's Shelftalker:

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, author of three novels, including FAT ANGIE, began something remarkable, too. It started as a book tour, but blossomed into a movement when she heard of a 13-year-old boy who had contemplated suicide. She asked to meet with him and they changed each other's lives. Eunice, as I know her, saw it as a call to action. She packed everything she owned into a storage unit, rented a car, and drove across the country, talking with at-risk youth and bringing the power of pen on paper with her. In the process, she filmed a documentary about kids on the fringe and how art can give a voice to the voiceless. I had the pleasure of attending a screening of At Risk Summer at this weekend's Texas Book Festival. To say it was powerful would be an understatement. And this is just the beginning. Eunice's organization, Never Counted Out, now aims to bring authors and artists to wherever kids are who have been subjected to bullying, dysfunctional home life, a history of drugs or suicide attempts, homelessness, a lack of emotional support, hopelessness. She is changing lives! Learn more about the movement, the documentary, and how you can add your support here. 
 Learn more at Never Counted Out.
View the trailer for the documentary, At Risk Summer here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Research- The Scavenger Hunt of Writers

Do you approach research as a chore or as a scavenger hunt? I easily get caught up in the awe of research. If someone had told my teenage self that I’d grow up to be a research addict, I would have spewed Orange Crush out my nose. Fast forward a decade or two to my early interest in nonfiction for the age-challenged and I would have hissed at the idea of doing the same level of research for a 32-page picture book as I would for a scholarly adult book. Yep, it’s true.

Next week, I’ll be pitching in at an Austin SCBWI workshop dedicated to research techniques for nonfiction and fiction writers. When it comes to research, whether you write for adults or children, nonfiction or fiction, the tools and processes are the same. I wish I’d had this type of workshop instruction long ago, before I spent several years chasing shiny (barely related) factoids down the literary equivalent of rabbit holes; before flailing around in the wrong dark places to find the information I really needed. I’ve learned a lot through the school of hard knocks, but I can't wait to soak in the wisdoms, tips, and shortcuts offered by our workshop faculty: award winning nonfiction author Cynthia Levinson, award winning novelist Greg Leitich Smith, librarian-extraordinaire Jeanette Larson, and author and Calkins Creek Books editor Carolyn Yoder. I have a feeling my research will become more efficient. There are a few spots left, so click here for more information about the Sept. 13, 2014 event.

Since I write primarily about dead people, ahem, I mean historical subjects, my research destinations might look a bit different than someone learning about dinosaurs, or habits of today's teens, or which baseball player did what and when, or how Julia Child's kitchen was outfitted. But, we're all on the search for information that aids us in developing our characters, settings, and plots.

Personally, any success I've had with research, I owe to:

The staff of my local library, first. Who could love books and the research trail more? When I’m stuck on where to search for obscure information, they’re always eager to jump onto the trail with me. They know just how to get a copy of that rare book or article, often through inter-library loan.
Online Databases, historic photos, EBay Yes, I said EBay. I have Google alerts set up for each of my subjects. Every time my designated keywords pop up on the web, I am notified. EBay sellers occasionally list souvenirs, books, pamphlets, playbills, photos, pinbacks, etc, related to my subjects. I've become somewhat of a collector.

  Hands-on I searched high and low for a rope of this material and circumference. I found it on EBay. It's related to a manuscript that's under consideration right now. I can't tell you what the subject is, yet, but being able to handle this rope and visualize it made a big difference in the storytelling.

Newspapers I fell in love with archived newspapers, but learned that yester-year’s reporters weren’t always the most reliable sources. I want to believe that there’s an overall higher standard of accuracy today, but those kinds of assumptions can be dangerous to researchers. When the spring 2016 release date for my book, En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words gets closer, I’ll share some of the unique challenges I came across when dealing with politically-slanted newspapers from the 19th century. One of the advantages to perusing newspapers from my subjects’ times is getting a sense of the era. Styles, prices, labor, entertainment, culture, it’s all right there in smudgy print. Even prices for slaves, which makes me cringe to read. (by the way, Blogger freezes when I try to post pics of ads for women's clothing. Bah!) Oh, and I always stumble upon unexpected historical finds, too.


 Like Charles' Dickens' serialized story, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And Sam Houston's famous speech at Nacogdoches (especially relevant to my Texas friends.) And there's always humor to be found, too. A great deal more humor than today, in fact. Some of it is too edgy to post here.


Interviews Every interviewer is nervous. Really nervous! But I've found that most experts and people with firsthand experience are flattered to be consulted. They love that someone thinks their topic is worthy of a children's book. Usually, they are very generous with information.

Old fashioned microfilm can be a treasure, too. I squinted my way to a hard-earned headache at the Shelbyville, TN Library as part of my research for Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key (Lee and Low, fall 2015). As more and more of these films are digitized, use of the machines is becoming a lost art. Before a DVD version of a collection was available, I purchased my own microfilm copy, then struggled, along with a library assistant in a neighboring town, to figure out their dusty machine.

State and National Archives

I’ve donned white gloves to peruse fragile archive documents, including yellowed and musty scrapbooks from long ago eras. Friends, there is nothing quite like the smell of history and the nostalgia of touching the past. For my research at the Tennessee State Archives, I was not allowed to take anything into the room except a few sheets of paper and a pencil, so I have no photos to wax sentimental over.

Research for my current project took me to a Presidential Library. They have thousands of pages of documents related to my subject, which has nothing to do with the president. They encourage researchers to take photos of documents that they want copies of, so a camera or smart phone is allowed into the room. Now I just need to figure out how to catalog my 472 photos. Don’t think they’re willy-nilly about giving access to documents. I had to give a copy of my driver’s license, went through a one-on-one orientation with an incredibly helpful archivist, and followed strict protocol when ordering material. Every desk space in the room is monitored by the watchful eyes and monitors of staff who are passionate about preserving documents. It was an amazing experience.

Left: Scrapbook from 1949 Europe.

Right: working my way through boxes of historical material. 

In Person

Of course, there's nothing better than visiting the scene of your historical research to get a feel for the place, but I know it's not always possible to make such trips. I've been known to ask friends to take photos for me if I know they're visiting an area relevant to a writing project.

To accommodate my needed research trip to Tennessee, where the story of Dr. William Key and Beautiful Jim Key began and ended, we planned a family vacation around it. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was more than a little teary-eyed when I visited the graves of both Doc and Jim. Yeah, it's that personal to me.


Yes, research is a scavenger hunt. Whether you write about dead guys or novels about contemporary life, research can be exhilirating, emotional, thrilling, even disappointing at times. It is always enlightening. Even when you're led down literary rabbit holes, they are full of wonder.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

A perennial favorite...

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

There are wonderful books aimed at inspiring children to write and read. Now that school has started, I thought I'd share a bundle of titles that I've come across. Some of these books are useful during school visits. Others are wonderful classroom additions. All of them are visually appealing.

This list of recommended reads is full of color, humor, and story. The whole idea is to make writing fun for kids. Yes, even grammar and punctuation. If we can wrap Language Arts lessons into a positive experience, young writers are bound to blossom. But, these aren't only for elementary school kids. Writers of all ages can benefit.


THE PLOT CHICKENS by Mary Jane Auch, illustrated by Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2010) Henrietta loves to read so much she decides to write a book of her own. With the help of her three old aunties, she hatches a plot, gives her character lots of problems, and writes what she knows. But when Henrietta publishes her story, the critics say she's laid an egg! Is this the end of Henrietta's career as an author?

A BOOK by Mordicai Gerstein Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a book. All but the youngest had stories they belonged to--fighting fires, exploring space, entertaining in the circus--but she didn't have one yet. Walking through all the possibilities of story types Mordicai Gerstein presents her quest in unique and changing perspectives


SHOW; DON'T TELL: SECRETS OF WRITING by Josephine Nobisso's, illustrated by Eva Montanari (Gingerbread House, 2004) Innovative yet accessible writing strategies appropriate for both fiction and nonfiction are presented in this enchanting tale of a writing lion who holds court for a cast of animal friends. Aspiring writers learn the essential nature of nouns and adjectives and how to use them to express their individual visions so that they “show and don’t tell” every time. Writing lessons are cleverly integrated into a tale that incorporates a sound chip, a scratch-and-sniff patch, and a tactile object to engage the aspiring writer’s five senses in fun proofs.

S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER'S ALPHABET by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009) What is a first draft? What is a writer's notebook? Authur Esther Hershenhorn uses the alphabet to help explain, explore and examines the tools, techniques and strategies for those hoping to live the literary life. Budding writers of all ages will be inspired to put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboards)!


THE PUNCTUATION STATION by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Lerner, 2010) All aboard! Join a family of giraffes on their journey to Punctuation Station. As the train chugs along, you'll learn the ins and outs of using periods, commas, apostrophes question marks, hyphens, quotation marks, and exclamation points!


WORDS ARE CATEGORICAL SERIES. Here's one title: SLIDE AND SLURP, SCRATCH AND BURP: MORE ABOUT VERBS by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable (Lerner, 2009)One book is never enough to explore the wide range of verbs! The crazy cats deliver loads of additional examples to illustrate the power of both action verbs and linking verbs. **Different titles cover specific grammar points with humor. Nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, antonyms, synonyms, metaphors and similes, conjunctions, etc.)

VOICES IN THE PARK by Anthony Browne (DK, 2001) Four different voices tell their own versions of the same walk in the park. The radically different perspectives give a fascinating depth to this simple story which explores many of the author’s key themes, such as alienation, friendship and the bizarre amid the mundane.

WHAT DO AUTHORS DO? by Eileen Christelow (Sandpiper, 1997) A sprightly text and colorful illustrations follow two creative people-and a talkative dog and cat-through the writing process step by step, from the inspiration for a story to the satisfaction of sharing the book with readers. Eileen Christelow based this instructive picture book on questions children asked during her classroom talks around the country. Simple enough for young children to understand.

THE BEST STORY by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Penguin, 2008) The best story is one that comes from the heart. The library is having a contest for the best story, and the quirky narrator of this story just has to win that rollercoaster ride with her favorite author! But what makes a story the best?
Her brother Tim says the best stories have lots of action. Her father thinks the best stories are the funniest. And Aunt Jane tells her the best stories have to make people cry. A story that does all these things doesn't seem quite right, though, and the one thing the whole family can agree on is that the best story has to be your own.

WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD by Patricia MacLachlan, (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010) Every school day feels the same for fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms. Mirabel comes to their class- bringing magical words and a whole new way of seeing and understanding. An honest story about what is real and what is unreal, and about the ways writing can change our lives and connect us to our own stories- word after word after word.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My First Books for the Education Market

This was a fun package to open last week. Two books in Capstone Press' new series about horses. It was pure coincidence that the first books they asked me to write were about horses. They didn't know that I've been a lifelong horse lover/owner and that I spent my youth in horse show rings.

Capstone Press is an institutional or education publisher. They market primarily to the school and public library market, though their books are available through Amazon and other retailers online. They produce fabulous books and I think girls will be especially drawn to these.

Back in 2010, I interviewed Laura Purdie Salas about working with education publishers. If you'd like to know more about how they differ from trade publishers, I'll let Laura's words explain. click here.