Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For NaNoWriMo: A request from Webucator.com

November is in full swing, and National Novel Writing Month, aka (hashtag) #NaNoWriMo, is back! The month has been too chock full of events for me to jump in with quill flying (a novel in one month? Not me, not this time...) except by writing this blog post. 

Rewind a couple of weeks: my email inbox included a request from Bob Clary, Marketing Manager at Webucator.com,  a national training company offering online classes on a wide variety of topics. Bob asked if I’d answer some questions as part of Webucator’s “Tips for Writers” NaNo series, and post them on my blog.
After a dry blog spell, I was ready to warm up my quill again - so thank you, Bob, for the questions. Hopefully some of you NaNo ninjas will find a helpful hint or two. 
Keep working your NaNo magic!  

   What were your goals when you started writing?
It's all Maurice's fault...
Initially, none. From word go I loved writing at school, but it never occurred to me I could be an author. As a teen, I veered toward pop music, and writing songs eventually became my career. Before that took off, though, I was an assistant teacher in an elementary school, which, thanks mainly to Maurice Sendak, planted the seed of wanting to write for children—initially picture books, then novels. Over the years, that seed grew into a socking great tree and insisted I pay attention to it. Even in seed form, I think I always  wanted get published.  

   What are your goals now?
Craft-wise, I'm always looking to hone my skills. Beyond that…More books out in the world! My first children’s fantasy, The Flame in the Mist, came out last year with Delacorte Press/Random House, and promo has taken up so much time and energy that writing has been taking a back seat. So my plan for 2015: reverse the seating arrangement; finish 2 middle grade novels I’m working on; find an agent (so far, I haven’t had one). I’ll continue to do local school visits, though– I love talking with kids about writing.

    What pays the bills now?
I still write songs - a very uncertain income, though. You never know how much you’ll make from year to year. Fortunately my husband, who’s also a musician, did very well in the jingle business when we lived in New York City, and savings from that time are supplementing our income.

     Assuming writing doesn't pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing? 
For me, it’s like reading a great book: once a story hooks me, I can’t wait to get back to it. But although being published is definitely a carrot, it’s not the reason to keep going. It’s the stories themselves –  the characters and their predicaments – that won’t let me be.

Lastly, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
First, be yourself. Don’t follow trends; they’ll be gone by the time you’re ready to publish. So write what you love – and love what you write. You’ll need that love to keep you going through tough parts of the journey, which there will inevitably be. Second, be patient and persistent, both with the writing process (honing, revising, etc) and the time it usually takes to get your first book published. Don’t give up in the face of rejection. Use it to your advantage: keep honing, revising, work on craft – and grow a thick skin. Remember, rejection isn’t personal! Every published author has faced it. It’s the ones who keep going that break through. 

Happy writing everyone, NaNoWriMo and beyond!

More authoring tips: For those curious about what Webucator has to offer, check out their 2 NaNoWriMo posts to date, here, and here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I thought that once The Flame in the Mists debut year was over, my life would slip comfortably back into inner journeys, through words and other worlds, including more regular blogging. Wrong! 2014 has been busier than ever, with school visits, festivals, conferences, library events . . . thousands of miles driven between PA, NJ, NY, DE . . . not to mention a family visit to England, and a songwriting trip to Belgium.

All perfect blog fodder. Yet nary a bloggish word I wrote, and Blog slipped ever farther into the realms of prehistory. Winter came and went. Likewise Spring. But now, teetering on summer, I have news to share and celebrate! 

The Flame in the Mist won an award. An award! A Crystal Kite award! 

Doesn't the award sticker look like a magical orb? What better image for Jemma and her world? And the script matches her eyes and amulet perfectly!

So how did this happen? It all starts with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. . .

I have huge tracts of time for the SCBWI, and I’ll explain why, and how this award brings me full circle, making it especially gratifying to receive. If you’re a children’s author of any ilk looking for inroads, perhaps my story will also tell you why, if you’re not already a member, you should join.

The SCBWI is a fantastic resource worldwide. In the U.S., many states have their own chapter that runs conferences and workshops that not only help kidlit authors navigate the business, but can also result in forging friendships that threaten to be lifelong.

Next tier of awesomeness: If you attend a conference, you can, after the event, submit a query to any agent or editor there – yes, even editors from the normally agent-submissions-only publishing houses.

But the icing on the conference cake is the opportunity to meet and network with those pedastled gatekeepers of kidlit, who actually turn out to be quite human. At some conferences, you can even submit manuscript pages for a critique session with an agent and/or editor. And if an editor from any publishing house – even those biggies – critiques your pages and invites you to submit the whole manuscript . . . Icing on the icing!

So it was with me and The Flame in the Mist. At the New Jersey chapter’s conference in 2010, I met an editor from Delacorte Press, et voila! You can read the whole story here, on Kathy Temean’s blog.

As if all this wasn’t enough awesomeness, the SCBWI also runs the Crystal Kite awards, the only peer-voted award in children's literature. Voting is divided between many regions worldwide, and members vote for books released within the previous year, whose authors live in their region. I’m in the Atlantic Region, consisting of PA, NJ, MD, DE, VA, West VA and DC. And to my gobsmacked elation. . .

. . . of 70 nominated books in my region, The Flame in the Mist won!

The award will probably be presented to me at my chapter’s next main event in November. In the meantime, just last Friday, I received the beautiful shiny award stickers. Tangible evidence! And of course, I love the way it looks on the book cover. A silver disc. It could almost be a symbol from my recording artiste days. . .

Discs, circles, mandalas. I’ve always loved them as a symbol. The wheel of life. Completion. From the earliest, nervous critique sessions I took part in at conferences, through query workshops, mentor sessions, the conference, and now, to winning this year’s Crystal Kite award. The SCBWI has brought me full circle.

Circles also imply continuation. As T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” And yes, I’m about to set off again. The next NJ SCBWI conference is coming up in 3 weeks, and I’ve signed up for workshops on picture book writing. A new round of exploration. . .Who knows what will be next? 

So there it is. If this can happen for me, it can happen for anyone. Aspiring kidlit authors: Join the SCBWI! 

My heartfelt gratitude goes to Lin Oliver, executive director of the SCBWI, SCBWI president Stephen Mooser, and to all the local chapter RAs who make things happen. The Flame in the Mist literally owes its existence in the world to all of you. Thank you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

EVENTS 2014!

A new year is here…and so are new events! The first two months are already looking busy. And here was I, thinking that 2014 was going to be easier on my tires. Apparently not!

Any questions about any of these events, please leave a comment below.

Teachers and Librarians, if you’re interested in a booking, please visit the Teachers page of my website for more info.

Or, you can simply email me!

To download a FREE copy of the Common Core Annotated Educational Guide for The Flame in the Mist, click HERE. (It's currently being featured on the educator resource pages of the Random House website, where you can also download it, here.)


Tuesday Jan. 14th,  4:00 – 6:00 pm: Special Educator Event    
Barnes & Noble, Clifton, NJ 
With Alison AshleyFormento and Ann Malaspina, on the use of our books in the classroom with reference to Common Core State Standards.

Wednesday Jan. 15th, 1:30 – 2:30: Assembly Presentation, grades 3-7
Wiggins College Prep Lab School, Camden, PA.

Wednesday Jan. 22nd, 1:15 – 2:15 pm: Assembly Presentation, grades 4-6
Pen Ryn School, Fairless Hills PA.

Friday Jan. 24th – Sunday, Jan. 26th: ALA Midwinter
Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.
Look out for me at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) table. Time of book signing TBA!
Tuesday Jan. 28th, 6 – 8 pm: Presentation and discussion grades 4 & 5
Jefferson School, North Arlington, NJ


Thursday, Feb. 6th: Presentation and discussion with 5th-7th grade students 
Brittingham Elementary School,  Milton, DE.

Saturday, Feb. 22nd, 1 – 3 pm: “Once Upon a Time” event 
Barnes & Noble, Neshaminy Mall, Bensalem, PA 
Fantasy and fairytales with a bunch of local authors!

Tuesday, Feb. 25th: 2 school visits! (Times tba)
Morning - Assembly presentation at Kutz Elementary, Doylestown, PA
Afternoon - Assembly presentation at Cold Spring Elementary, Cold Spring, PA


Saturday, March 8th, (time tba): Authors Breakfast, Cumberland, PA
Location tba
Books on sale/signing

Late March...probable trip to the UK to see family, and to Europe to write songs.


Saturday, April 19th: YAFEST, Easton, PA 10:30 am – 3:00 pm
Easton Area public library, Palmer branch, 1 Weller Place, 18045
A ton of YA and Middle Grade authors will be there, signing our books!

Saturday, April 26th, 10:00 am – 2:30 pm: Little Flower Teen Festival,  
Little Flower High School, Philadelhia PA
I'll be teaching 2 workshops on The Dark Underbelly of Character


26th – 29th (specific date/time tba) Keystone State Reading Conference, State College, PA
Address TBA
Presentation (title tba) and book signing. Lots TBA with this one...


Tuesday, Dec. 2nd (time tba) Assembly Presentation and bookfair
School TBA

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I know, I’m kind of late out of the gate with a New Year greeting. After a huge number of events last year (did you notice?), I took an extended break over the holidays – a bit of grog here, some wassailing there, punctuated with the odd party and quiet time catching up with The Hubby (which I needed, and so did he). It’s taken me a while to creak back into gear. . . but here I am!

Over the holidays, I also spent some quality time with teetering pile of to-be-read books and managed, ever so slightly, to shrink it. Since I’m officially a bookish person, and this blog is officially attached to my bookish website, I’m going to prattle on a bit about a YA book that I read just before the New Year: A MONSTER CALLED by Patrick Ness, which I snagged from my local indie, the Doylestown Bookshop* just days before the holidays. 

Its title was the first hook for me. (As you might guess from The Flame in the Mist, I’m not only a bookish person, but a spookish one.) Then, its dark cover, moodily illustrated by Jim Kay, gave my creep-meter a thrilling surge. Jim’s drawings grace the whole book, and are fabulous – if you’re a fan of dark and soul-stirring, which obviously I am. Reading the blurb on the back, which starts, “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do”, and ends, “This monster is…something ancient, something wild. And it wants the truth”, I was already reaching for my wallet. Both voice and content were instant grabbers. I had to read this book. 

What's more, it's "the first ever to win both the  Carnegie Medal for literature and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration". Not that I needed to read that to be sold. High accolades to live up to, thoughwhich it did.

 Based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away in 2007 at the age of 47 before she could flesh it out, A MONSTER CALLS is the story of Conor, whose mother has cancer, and who is in denial about its severity. Beautifully told, it weaves the surface story with magical realism – the large yew tree that comes to life outside his bedroom window and plagues his nights, with its ultimate symbolism of healing. But the yew isn’t THE monster of this book. That is something Conor has dreamed, but won’t face – and we’re not told what it is. You might think, as I did, that it would turn out to be the truth about his mother’s condition. . . but it’s not. It’s more tender, and raw, and less pat than that. And a reminder that all monsters, if faced, can hold an invaluable gift.

Can you tell I loved this book? Love love loved. I’m awed. Inspired. What a kick into a new writing year!

I have a feeling it's going to be a monstrously good one.
A very HAPPY 2014 to one and all!

(*At time of posting, said local indie is heralding the imminent arrival of Bad Kitty to the store. Regrettably, this is not me.)