Pig Out for Reading

I remember falling in love with reading.

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade books the past year, because that’s what I want to write. I want to write books like the kind I read from fifth to eighth grade, the kind I re-read and re-re-read. They were the books that really stuck with me as I grew older and looked for new books to read. I loved the books, I loved the writers, I loved reading.

I have trouble remembering authors and titles sometimes, but I can remember how my books looked in my room. I didn’t have a traditional bookshelf in my room, but I had shelves in my closet and I can still picture the books stacked in there. I even remember keeping some books in the open shelf on my night stand.

Remembered Reading

I remember reading Dreams of VictoryA Dog Called KittySasha, My Friend, and Six Months to Live. And of course all of the Little House books. And a book series from the grocery store called Grandma’s Attic.

But I have forgotten the titles of other books I loved reading. I could only remember snippets.  I remembered I read about a woman who gets a young puppy as a companion for her older dog and the older dog dies on an adventure. Or something like that. And I remembered reading a book about a girl who’s mother went vegan in an attempt to be happier.The mom had recently gotten divorced. The daughter hated the new diet and tried to sabotage her mom. The two big scenes I remember reading involved the daughter drinking mustard and milk and finding mice eating the junk food she had hidden in her drawer. The mom and daughter finally come to a truce and a healthy balance of good food.

(I think that book may have influenced my current eating habits more than I realized.)

I wanted to find these books. I searched all over the internet using as many descriptive words as I could. I searched websites like BookFinder for out of print and old books, I searched Amazon for keywords. I searched Goodreads.

Buried Treasure

Goodreads was useful because users create lists like “kids books that were popular in the 80s” and that’s just what I was looking for.

On Goodreads, I was delighted to find some covers of one of my favorites!


Six Months to Live was my first exposure to childhood disease. The main character has leukemia. Funny, maybe this book influenced me more than I realized, too, because I worked for the American Cancer Society for eight years before I moved to writing full time.

On a Goodreads list I also found a book that I know I read, but had forgotten. This was like discovering buried treasure.

But I still couldn’t find the book about the mom going on a health food kick, or the young puppy and old dog. I let my search fade while the rest of life took over, but I didn’t forget about it. Every once in awhile when I visited the library or an old bookstore, I’d poke around and see if a title or cover jogged my memory.

Then I got involved in cleaning out our basement. I wanted to get rid of our excess belongings for several reasons. I abhor hoarding. The thought of it gives me anxiety. Also, I wanted to move our workout equipment into our larger storage room so I could get more done. My cleanup was ruthless. If I had kept something in the basement so long I didn’t go looking for it, I didn’t need it. As a means of farewell, I did do a sweep through all the papers before I recycled them, and that’s when I found my real buried treasure. My Pig Out award.

Pig Out on Reading

reading award

I love to read.

In fifth grade, I wrote 86 book reports to help my class win a reading prize. While it was wonderful to win the prize thirty years ago, it was even better finding these book reports today. I was so, so grateful to my mom (and then me) for saving them until just this moment. (This is not a reason to horde things. Only keep stuff related to your passionate dream.)

I found the titles of those missing, beloved books. Here are some of my favorites:

Behind the Attic Wall

A Wrinkle in Time

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Helen Keller

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

I wrote reports on tons of Nancy Drew books and way too many Sweet Valley High books. Remember, I was going for quantity.

The Bunnicula series is in here, lots of Beverly Cleary books, some Choose Your Own Adventure and a book that gives me an unsettled feeling called The Twits, by Roald Dahl.

But the one about the mom and daughter and health food? It’s called Fifth Grade Secrets. Did you ever read it? I’ve got to find it.

I didn’t find the new dog/old dog book, but that might have been a story in my classroom SRA box. Did you have one of those?


Books to Read on a Visit to the Southwest

At the end of 2016, we took a family vacation to Arizona. Like all good vacations, I prepared a little reading list for the trip.

The Books

While we were traveling, I read Land of Little Rain  by Mary Austin and Turtle Dream by Gerald Hausman. There were little pearls of word wonder in both books. Both books were also collections of short writings, one non-fiction and one fiction. Perfect for vacation reading where you don’t always have large gaps of time. When we vacation, we are usually always on the go, there isn’t a lot of sitting around.

Earlier this year, I also read Waterless Mountain, a Newbery Award book, that was “transportational” in its writing. I felt I was in the Navajo land when I read this book. Code Talkers was also about Navajos, but the geography was the South Pacific, not the Southwest.

Death Comes for the Archbishop  by Willa Cather is a book I read on a twenty-state road trip twenty years ago. I highly recommend this book if you ever head there, but I did not read it on this trip.

I also selected Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest: Based on Stories Originally Collected by Juan B. Rael (English and Spanish Edition) to read, but I didn’t have the time. It’s still on my bedside table, ready for me to pick up when I’m searching for stories.

You can find some of these books on my Goodreads account.

Do you put together a vacation reading list based on where you’re going? 


New Publication: Highlights for Children!

I’m so excited to share that my first piece for Highlights for Children appears in their January 2017 issue.

Check out the crafts section for some spinning science fun and you’ll see instructions on how to make a Super Spinner. If your child makes a Super Spinner, send me a photo on Facebook or Twitter or by email and I’ll share it on my blog.

New Publication! Aunty Greenleaf and my Encyclopedia Entry

I love encyclopedias.
encyclopedia screenshot

Last year, ABC-CLO accepted my application to write an entry in their encyclopedia on American Myths. The book is now published.

It is pretty exciting to see my name in the list of contributors in an encyclopedia. I remember as a kid sitting down and turning pages in our encyclopedias learning about topic after alphabetized topic.


Through this experience, I got to do something I love doing. I got to research and learn new things! I learned a lot of new American myths and legends I had never heard before. The story of Kate Shelly saving a train really excited me.

The Legend

The legend I eventually wrote was about Aunty Greenleaf. There isn’t a lot written about her, but her story isn’t really unknown or unusual. Here’s a snippet of the end to whet your curiosity.


You can read more about ABC-CLIO here.

Chapters – December 2016

Follow along as I attempt to reach my writing goals in December.

Read about my writing goals here.

December 1

1:32pm. I’ve completed a first draft of “I Really Love You and I Mean It,” a dummy of “Digit” and a dummy of “Scientific ABCs.” This checks the boxes for two of my picture book goals – plus an extra picture book. BONUS.

I still need to read and edit my two chapters of “Dare Club” and then revise those chapters in the manuscript. Hopefully I can get that done and still have time to do my run workout.

December 2

Read three chapters to get back on track. Revised manuscript. Considered additional work that needed to be done while running.

December 3

Barely managed to read a chapter, spent the day with kids at a research study.

December 4

7:28pm. Chapter 14 is read and edited. I am behind on revising but will get to work tomorrow morning, possibly tonight if I have time. I did revise the short story “Will Call” and I submitted it and “The Hunter Case” to a ghost story competition hosted by The Fiction Desk. I also submitted “The Spark and Blade” to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. It feels good to submit and check those off the to-do list. I’m at soccer right now and have an hour drive home and chores waiting for me, but hopefully I’ll get some time tonight to tackle “Dare Club.”

December 5

5:29pm. This afternoon I revised chapters 11-14. Then the kids came home at 4pm and needed an hour for homework and snacks. To stay on track I needed to read, edit and revise two more chapters. But I also need to make dinner. It took me 30 minutes to read and edit chapters 15 and 16, but they are done. Can I revise them in another 30 minutes and then cook dinner? Let’s see.

6:03pm. Two chapters revised. Ready to start chapter 17 tomorrow, on schedule. 8 chapters to go, at 2 a day I should finish Friday afternoon.

December 12

8:14pm.  Good news, I finished revising Dare Club last week on Thursday, Dec 8. Ahead of schedule. That one is ready to send out.

I realized I couldn’t dive into revising “DNF” yet, because I didn’t know the chapters. And I didn’t know the characters completely yet. And I don’t have the ending written. So I have to revise my schedule, but I’ve read through the whole manuscript and I love a lot of it. Loving it means I’m excited to work on it.

To submit it in February, I need to work steadily for the next month. We’ll be traveling the week after Christmas, though, so I’d love to have a draft with chapters in order and a climax and ending written by Dec 23. That’s only 11 days away. And we’re traveling next weekend, so I don’t get all 11 days, I get about 9. I think I need to write the climax and ending and then work through some of the larger edits like removing junk chapters. Then when the story exists from start to finish I can work on the polishing in January. 11 days. Two chapters a day. Runners know about putting in the work daily. Let’s get started.

Dec 23


I’ve printed out the newly organized draft of DNF. I’ve thought through my climax. I haven’t started reading and revising two chapters a day, but I still think I can do it and be ready to send it out in February. The question is, do I carry it with me on our winter vacation? 

Also, new book idea inspired by Hamilton. When do I find time to write THAT? 

Manuscript Goals


Read. Edit. Revise.

Hello, manuscript. Get ready to work. I have some serious December writing goals. Tomorrow, I will start a new post and update it daily, with notes to myself, in order to be accountable and to reach these goals.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing. I did write in November, I just didn’t do NaNoWriMo. But that’s fine. Honestly, it’s about whether I am writing, not about what or how much. I did NaNo for a few years for confidence and practice and quantity, but I think I need to focus on quality now.

I have three completed novel manuscripts. I’ve submitted one for agent feedback several times, but I’d like to have two others ready to submit. I feel like these two others have good legs when it comes to having strong premises (not just ideas) and interesting, unique characters. They are all middle grade and I feel that’s my sweet spot.

Manuscript #1

So, let’s start with Dare Club.

It has 24 chapters. If I can read, edit and revise 2 chapters a day, that would take me 12 days. I’m already done 5 chapters, so that leaves 19 and I believe I could complete this in 10 days.

Manuscript #2

I don’t have a good title for this manuscript. But the premise is: what happens if a boy who always says the wrong thing finds an iPod that lets him read people’s thoughts?

My pitch is weak. But it’s a start.

“Jace is really good at always saying the wrong thing. When he finds a magical iPod at a flea market, he thinks he has the key to his dreams, starting on the soccer team and getting his first girlfriend. But his life turns into a nightmare when the iPod – and knowing people’s secrets – causes more problems than it solves. Will Jace figure out the real power of the iPod before it’s too late?”

I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in January.

Also, I need a title. Maybe “iSecrets.” No, that’s dumb. Maybe “Open Mouth, Insert Foot.” That’s my working title. Maybe “Shuffle.” Ha.

Outline should take a day, reading and revising 2 chapters a day means at least 2 weeks. And so just this manuscript plus Dare Club takes up all of December.

Manuscript #3

This manuscript also lacks a title. But the premise here is: What happens if the girl who never finishes anything decides she’s going to run a marathon?

The pitch goes something like: “Nobody ever takes twelve-year-old Whitney seriously, mostly because Whitney doesn’t take life seriously. But when Whitney decides to run a marathon, no one believes her. Will Whitney change who she is in the eyes of others or learn who she really is?”

I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in February.

Also I need a title. I’m thinking “Finisher.” Or “DNF” (that stands for Did Not Finish).

Probably the same timeline as Manuscript 2. Can I do three manuscripts in two months? Maybe if I give myself a clear accomplishment goal like “two chapters a day.” That feels defined and manageable.

Short Story Manuscripts

I also need to finish revising “Will Call” and “The Hunter Case” and send them in to the ghost story competition before January 2017.

Picture Book Manuscripts

I want to draft the text for “I Really Love You, Mom, and I Mean It” and bring that to critique group. I also want to craft the dummy for “Digit” and send that on to my selected publisher.

Can I get those short stories and picture books done by February?

Only if I don’t do anything else.

My Interview with WOW! Women on Writing


flash fiction

Over the summer, my flash fiction story “Sargassum” was chosen as a runner-up in the Spring Flash Fiction Contest hosted by WOW! Women on Writing. In November, the wonderful women who run that site published my email interview. You can read the interview here. It’s pretty exciting, I think, partly because I mention eating mealworms.

Don’t forget to subscribe to their blog and send in your flash fiction!

Best and Worst Writing Prompts from Fourth Grade 

Fourth grade writing prompts are really useful even for forty year old writers like me!

Do you remember any of your elementary school writing? I’ve been cleaning out my basement storage area recently and I found several old essays and projects that gave me a good chuckle. It’s really sweet to look back on the writing I did as a young person and remember how much pleasure it gave me to tell a story, whether it was fiction or non-fiction.

Two of my boys are in the upper elementary school grades and now they are tackling essays and stories. It’s just as exciting to me to see what they bring home.

My middle son is in fourth grade and he’s working on a narrative writing project. Here’s the description his teacher provided.

Narrative Writing

It’s funny to see it all laid out like that, but even adult writers forget these basic elements sometimes. It never hurts to get these basic reminders.

This assignment was a non-fiction project. The teacher asked the kids to do some brainstorming.

Best Days

First, they brainstormed their best days.

Best Days

As you can see, my fourth grader doesn’t have great handwriting. But he does have good ideas. His possible topics were the day he met Michelle Obama, our trip to Ireland, his birthday, and our family trip to Erie, PA.

Worst Days

Then they brainstormed their worst days.

worst day

His worst days included a trip to the dentist, the day a young visitor messed up some of his LEGOs, a close friend of his switching schools and the day our hermit crabs died. These were some very bitter moments.

Any good story includes some moments of joy and moments of sadness. But my fourth grader feels things very, very deeply and I knew it would be hard for him to write about something very sad. I anticipated he would chose a happy day, and I guessed right. He told me he was writing about the day he met Michelle Obama.

But he surprised me and actually wrote his narrative essay about our trip to Erie and my triathlon. When he brought his rough draft home to share with me, I noticed how his essay contained the element of narrative writing. He described events in chronological order. Our family were the characters. He included little details that showed he noticed how nervous I was. He included setting descriptions. I felt he did a great job and I loved seeing his writing progress.

If you’re looking for journal entry prompts or ideas for a quick blog post, consider doing a piece of narrative writing with a best day/worst day prompt.

Dialect Ideas for Writers

Growing up in Maryland, I never thought I had a local dialect or accent. I also never thought I lived in the south. But when I went to college, I made friends from Long Island (who had NY accents) and they often commented that I had “such a southern accent.”

I didn’t have an accent, I insisted. Although my mom grew up in Baltimore I never said “zinc” for “sink.” My dad was from Cleveland but I never said “pop” for soda. I was neutral. But I was wrong.

I said “Warshington” and I said “y’all” when referring to a group. But no, I did not sound like a Southerner. Talk to people from Virginia and on down!

Now I live in Pittsburgh and I’ve stopped saying “Warshington” but “y’all” slips out once in awhile. I’ve tried to adjust my language to be more neutral all while resisting the influence of local Pittsburghese, especially one that bugs me.


There’s a joke only newcomers to Pittsburgh get. It’s a one liner that says “Or not.” And then the caption is “If Shakespeare was from Pittsburgh.”

Folks in Pittsburgh (often mispronounced as Picksburgh) leave out that “to be” in many phrases. Floors don’t need to be swept, they need swept. Cars don’t need to be fixed, they need fixed.

Many (not all) people born and raised in Pittsburghers by native Pittsburghers leave out “to be” from sentences. It’s part of the regional dialect. It was funny when I first noticed it, but irritating when I realized even teachers did it in school and influenced my kids to do it, too. Check out the note on my child’s homework!

pittsburghese dialect


I wanted to know what role the phrase “to be” plays in sentences and it turns out it’s used in sentences written in the passive voice. That’s not cool. Writers are told over and over not to write in the passive voice! So are Pittsburghers on to something?

Nope. Just deleting “to be” doesn’t make the sentence correct or make it active voice. I think instead, to be in the active voice, the note from the teacher should say “Fix these.”

Now let’s say you’re writing a story or novel based in Pittsburgh. And you really want it to sound authentic. You could use this little feature of Pittsburgh and people in the know would nod their heads in recognition. And if you want to add in more authentic Pittsburgh speech, grab the handy book called “How to Speak Pittsburghese.”

Books that Depend on Dialect

Some books really depend of dialect. The dialect becomes part of the setting. It makes the setting more real and turns characters into real people. Not too long ago I shared two books really where dialect drove the story. Dive into them and when you emerge, you’ll be convinced.

Discover a Local Dialect

But what if you want to write about characters from other places you haven’t visited? How can you find out about local dialects? Here are three ideas:

  1. Ask friends on Facebook or Twitter what the local speech habits are
  2. Check the library or a book store for books about the language in your chosen location
  3. Search the internet!

The internet is so helpful for this kind of thing. I did one search and found two useful results right off the bat.

There’s a huge website dedicated to regional dialects by Rick Aschmann. I can’t comment on how accurate it is, academically, but it’s really interesting to explore. Where I grew up in central Maryland looks like part of the Atlantic Midland. Pittsburgh is also part of the Midland, but listed as a sub-dialect. So cool!

The Washington Post also shared a map of dialects and links to YouTube videos of people sharing their local dialects. I like the idea of the video because you can hear how people say things, not just read them or guess at pronunciations.

So what’s unique to the dialect where you live?

NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s been a rough start to November, but I am hopeful I can complete NaNoWriMo 2016.

I’m very distracted right now with the election results. It seems like we need organizations and movements like We Need Diverse Books even more than ever. Our children need to know the world does not belong only to one kind of person. There’s room for everyone in this world, if we just make some room. (Can you name that movie musical reference?)

Several of my creative friends have vowed to continue to create works of art and words for their young audiences. I will make that vow, too. I have some fun stories that don’t involve insults, fear, or hate. And I will complete my bee story by November 30. We need to wake up to the damage we are doing to the environment. And to each other.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? What’s your story?

Read about Stalkers here.

protagonist nanowrimo