What I’m Reading Now: Joyfully Dismantling the TBR Tower

I’ve been reading through my TBR pile. Well, “pile” isn’t really apt. It’s shelves upon shelves of books I have purchased or been given, every one of which I have been told by people I know and trust is a Worthwhile Read. Almost all of them are MG, YA, or adult nonfiction. (Research FTW!)

The TBR tower is simultaneously a thing of great delight… and terror. How will I ever get through all those books? How will I resist buying even more before I read the ones I already have? (Spoiler: I won’t. I am addicted to buying books.) And most importantly… will I LOVE the books I read next?

Last week, the answer was a resounding YES three times in a row. And so, without giving spoilers – because I might not have chosen these three if I had known what the subject matter in each was, precisely – I found three new, amazing MG reads.

Trust me: Move these to the tippy top of your TBR tower! You’ll thank me.

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Stevenson

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley






Keeping Good Company: 2016 WLT Awards

Happy summer to you, friends! I’ve been mostly AWOL here, because I’ve been vacationing (yes, living Real Life! In Santa Fe and other lovely places) and finishing a draft of what I hope will be my next novel. Which means I’ve been crying a lot, and revising a lot, and trying to keep all the new and old plot threads straight in my head. Brain fog time!

And then, today, out of the blue, came a happy email! Last year, my book Nightingale’s Nest won the Writer’s League of Texas MG/YA book award. This year, I was overjoyed to be selected as a finalist… and to wish the very warmest of congratulations to Jackie Kelly, who won for her glorious The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.


It’s a real honor to have my Wish Girl sitting alongside my friend K. A. Holt’s heart book, House Arrest, and Brian Yansky‘s Utopia, Iowa, and Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America… and so many more.

Need some new books for your end-of-summer reading slump? Any of these will knock your socks off!

Thank you again to the Writers’ League of Texas for the recognition, and for supporting Texas authors in so many ways. You rock!






Local Young Writers: Free Workshops coming NOW!

Hi, y’all! I know writers and readers from all over check in here from time to time, but this post is particularly for my local Central Texas writers. I am teaching three FREE writing workshops in the next few weeks, and I’d love for you to join me!

  1. This Thursday, June 23 at 2 pm at the Dripping Springs Community Library, I will teach a NEW workshop on writing flash fiction. Kids in grades 6-8 are invited to Fast and Furious Fiction. I promise there will be gruesome, funny, and magical stories written at the speed of a candy wrapper! Um, and there will be some candy, too. Sign up here! Or just show up. 😉
  2. On Thursday, June 30 at the Westbank Library in Austin, Texas, you can catch my Special Spiders workshop at 3 pm. Sign up here! This is for kids 1-6 grade. Sign up here!
  3. Can’t make it to Westbank? On Thursday, July 7, 3-5 graders who live near/can get their parents to drive them to Dripping Springs can catch the Snowflakes and Spiders workshop at the Dripping Springs Library. Sign up is open here.

I hope some of you can make it! I promise it will be fun and funny and worth your time.

See you soon, writer friends!


Reader Letters: Answering a Few of the Trickier Questions

Hello, Writer and Reader Friends!

I spent the last hour reading an incredible bundle of thank you letters from a class in Chicago I Skyped with a few weeks back. Their letters were wonderful to read, especially since the whole group have recently published their own books! They had so much to share about their stories, their writing journeys, and the process of becoming published authors.



There were also a few questions I felt I should answer, and I’ll do it here, just in case anyone else has those same questions at a time when I’m too busy meeting deadlines to answer them all.


Your writing process sounds very frustrating. How do you know what words to type?

I don’t at first! And yes, that can be very frustrating – to have to trust that my brain will somehow start pumping out good words, words I might like enough to include in a real book. Sometimes I throw away whole chapters… or whole books. But that’s okay, it’s all practice, all writing, and I love it. And even though I never really know what words to start with, I know that I’ll have many more chances to go back and change the words on the page. Revision, you know. It’s painful, sure, but it’s where good words can become great words.

How do you write so much?

I avoid pants. No, really. I stay in my pajamas as long as possible, so I can’t possibly go outside or do anything social. And then I wander into my writing room, open up the document… and there’s my work in progress! No pants, might as well write a few chapters… and when I look up, there’s a bunch of new words on the page! I try to get dressed before my kids get home from school. Just in case.

Have you met James Patterson?

No, but if I do, I will tell him thank you for giving all that lovely money to libraries and indie bookstores, and writing so many fun books for kids!

What breed is your dog?

He is a mutt! All my dogs are rescue dogs, saved from shelters. I firmly believe in giving homes to good dogs who deserve them, no matter what breed they are. The best dog editors are those who deeply appreciate the nice soft carpet on the floor where they listen to me read my work out loud. 🙂

Have you tried bacon chocolate?

I have and it made me sad for weeks. How can two beautiful things, taken together, become so repulsive? Oh, the humanity!

And now, back to work! I have the pajamas on, and a new first chapter… I wonder if today’s words will be keepers? I hope so!



How Can I Thank You, Dear Author? Here’s How!

As an author, I am frequently asked to contribute copies of my books to charity events, or schools in need, or to Skype to a class or book club, etc. I am totally delighted to do such things when I am able! (Another post someday: how I actually buy all those donated copies with my on money, and pay to mail them. So, yeah. My ability has limits.)

Sometimes the recipients of such gifts of time/talent/treasure are very gracious, and say thank you in charming ways. But a writer friend wrote a blog spot on the very BEST ways to thank an author! It was so spot-on, I’ll link to it here:

Erin Dionne’s How to Thank an Author in 15 Minutes or Less!

Go check it out! And the next time an author hangs out with your Scout troop or whatever, you’ll know precisely the best way to say thank you! After the chocolate, that is.

You all knew about the mandatory chocolate author gifts, yes?


Author Gifts!!!

Author Gifts!!!

Summer of Lost and Found: Interview & Giveaway!

One of the coolest things I get to do as an author is read other favorite authors’ books before anyone else. In the case of phenomenal MG author Rebecca Behrens, that means I was able to read her debut novel, When Audrey Met Alice, early enough to blurb it! So, when I saw she had another book coming, I begged my agent to snag me a copy. (Thanks, Suzie! SO glad I begged.)


I loved Summer of Lost and Found. It was so many of the things I gobble up in a MG read: mystery, adventure, ghost story, and cool historical treasure trove.

Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Nell Dare expected to spend her summer vacation hanging out with her friends in New York City. That is, until her botanist mom dragged her all the way to Roanoke Island for a research trip. To make matters worse, her father suddenly and mysteriously leaves town, leaving no explanation or clues as to where he went—or why.

While Nell misses the city—and her dad—a ton, it doesn’t take long for her to become enthralled with the mysteries of Roanoke and its lost colony. And when Nell meets Ambrose—an equally curious historical reenactor—they start exploring for clues as to what really happened to the lost colonists. As Nell and Ambrose’s discoveries of tantalizing evidence mount, mysterious things begin to happen—like artifacts disappearing. And someone—or something—is keeping watch over their quest for answers.

It looks like Nell will get the adventurous summer she was hoping for, and she will discover secrets not only about Roanoke, but about herself.

Don’t you want to read it now? If so, read the five questions Rebecca kindly answered, and leave a comment. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky folks who gets to lay hands on this gem before the May 24 release date!

Rebecca Behrens. That gleam in her eyes? Pure Talent.

Rebecca Behrens. That gleam in her eyes? Pure Talent.

Interview with Rebecca
1. Describe your most recent book, Summer of Lost and Found, in three words.

History, mystery, discovery

2. So far, you have written amazing books about First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and the lost colony of Roanoke. Have you always been a history buff? What other past stories do you have your eye on for future books?

Thank you! I have always been a history buff. After class, I used to write notes to my fifth-grade teacher telling her about what I loved reading in our textbook and what else I wanted to know. She gave me an endless supply of MG historical fiction that nurtured my interest. My parents are also both history-lovers, and our family road trips made stops at every plaque and historic site along the way. They taught me that not only is the present world a beautiful and complicated and fascinating place—the past is, too.

My next book, The Last Grand Adventure, is set in 1967 and it’s about a twelve-year-old girl whose spunky grandmother takes her along on a planes, train, and automobiles journey back to Kansas—where the grandmother is convinced she will find her famously missing sister, Amelia Earhart. So I am getting to explore the ’60s and Amelia Earhart’s life—both topics I love learning more about.

3. The Historical Fiction Police are a real thing. When writing about past events, do you ever find yourself nervous you’ll get an important fact or detail wrong? Have you ever gotten any “fan mail” correcting your research?

I have a love-hate relationship with the Historical Fiction Police. I am nervous about them knocking on my door, but at the same time they motivate me to do my best at getting facts right. For me, the trickiest part of writing historical fiction is deciding when it’s okay to stray from the historical record and make things up. Sometimes you have to, because information isn’t available; sometimes you need to, because you are first and foremost trying to tell a good story. But that story needs to stay plausible, if not completely accurate.

I’m lucky in that so far, I haven’t been alerted to any big mistakes by readers. I can thank my copy editors for that! For Summer of Lost and Found, I worked with a historian from Roanoke Island. She reviewed the entire manuscript and pointed out places where I was either wrong or ought to clarify information. She taught me a lot about the history and people of Roanoke Island—I’m so grateful for her help and expertise!

4. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I love revising, especially those aha! moments when a piece of the book puzzle unexpectedly fits. I also love the research that happens while working on early drafts: The Internet is often my first stop before moving on to more formal sources, and there is something really fun about falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole when looking into a topic. You think you’re just going to look up what kinds of birds live in a place and the next thing you know, you’re reading about a passenger pigeon that escaped a pie recipe.

5. What’s the best book (or two) you’ve read this month?

I just read Jen Malone’s The Sleepover, which is a middle-grade reimagining of the movie The Hangover. And it is truly hilarious. I’m longing to dig my Pac-Man sleeping bag out of storage and invite my best friend over for a night of shenanigans. Now I’m in the middle of an adult historical fiction book: The Marriage of Opposites, which is about the life of painter Camille Pissarro’s mother. The protagonist, Rachel, is strong-willed and passionate, and I’m loving the lush setting: the island of St. Thomas in the 1800s.

Thanks, Rebecca! And congratulations on another stunning book.

Remember: Leave a comment below! Details: North American entries only, please! Contest ends on Friday, May 20 at midnight Central.



The Spirit of Texas List: A Texas-Sized Bundle of Cool Stuff!

I was super excited and humbled to be invited to participate in TLA’s Spirit of Texas Middle School list this year. Texas librarians know how to make an author feel loved – and this list makes it clear that teachers should be feeling the love, too, since the “goodies” that come along with this list are for teachers and their students!


Curious? Click through to the site and watch a video or two (including the brand new Nightingale’s Nest book trailer the committee created!), and check out all the incredible, professional curriculum they made up to go with all three of my books. ALL THREE. I’m in Heaven.

Years ago I was a teacher, and I would have LOVED to have material like this already prepared.  It thrills me to think that teachers might be able to use my books more easily in the classroom, now that this material is out there.

Thank you so much to the entire Spirit of Texas committee, and Uber Librarian Amanda Galliton in particular! Texas’ motto in Friendship, and you sure know how to show that to a home-grown author.

Have a great week!

So Much Sunshine! Florida, China, and Rainbows in Texas

I am delighted to announce that my book was selected for the Florida Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award for 6-8 graders! They made a very cool video, too. With music! And fancy graphics!

If you watched the video, you discovered precisely WHICH book they selected.

Not this one:


And not this one:




Yes. The creepy, sinister book that was my debut novel in 2012. WOW! I am utterly delighted that kids all over Florida are going to be reading about the food, the witches, the mysteriously hypnotic playground sand…. What an honor, and what a surprise! I’m tempted to trot off and finish that scary manuscript I secretly drafted last November. Maybe they’ll be hungry for MORE.

In other news, the Chinese edition of Wish Girl arrived! It’s titled Thank You, Dear Valley (in Chinese of course) and it’s got illustrations! Glorious ones, and I am in love, and desperately wish I could read Chinese so I could see what the translation is like. The whole book looks like art. Annie would approve.



And now, I’m heading off to the big TLA conference in Houston. The world is full of rainbows today. I hope it’s that way for you, too!


Texas Sweethearts at TxLA 2016!

The week all the Texas librarians and ALL the Texas authors look forward to is almost here! The annual Texas Library Association Conference starts next week in Houston.

I’ll be there on Wednesday, April 20, signing books at the Overlooked Books booth and fangirling all my favorite author and librarian friends. On Tuesday, you can snag a FREE hardback copy of Wish Girl at 2-3 pm in Author aisle 5. YES, FREE.


Of course, I’ll be doing some other smaller party-type things, too, so I might see you at some of those. I hope so!

If you’d like to see the full listing for my schedule and for all of the other Texas Sweethearts, click here! We’ll be giving away one of the ultra-talented Akiko White’s cakes on Wednesday… you want to win this.


You really do.

Come find us! TS&S_April_2016_TLA

A Spring Full of School Visits and Conferences

Wow! There’s a lot going on this spring for me, so much that it’s hard to do it all, and find time to write all the books and keep the kids fed and alive… I’ve pretty much given up on make-up and wearing anything other than pajamas. The kids have learned to cook, and we’ve all decided not to mention the dirty laundry piles.

Frightening? Yes. You might consider staying far away.

But if you are looking to say hello to me on a date I’m guaranteed to have on real clothes and possibly even makeup, come by one of my signings at the huge TLA Librarian’s Conference on April 20-21 (more detailed times to come), or at the Austin SCBWI’s annual writing conference on May 14-15.

I’ll actually be presenting a talk there, titled Unforgettable Settings in YA/Children’s Literature: How to create them, and why we must. It will be unforgettable and mind-blowing and potentially life-changing.

And I’ll also moderate a panel on Poetry with the illustrious and eternally lovely Liz Garton Scanlon and the whip-smart and truly lovely K. A. Holt.

So, fun times! And speaking of fun… although I have a few more school and library visits coming up, I have to post some photos from the ridiculously fun day I spent at Galindo Elementary this week. The always-charming Diane Collier knows precisely how to make an author feel loved, from the sign in the parking lot (glitter!) to the projects lining the hallways. What a wonderful way to welcome the springtime!

And, you know, with enough flowers around, even the dirty laundry piles smell a little fresher.






IMG_2499   IMG_2495

IMG_2489   IMG_2492


My designated parking spot!

My designated parking spot!

IMG_2486 IMG_2487