Wednesday, October 1, 2014



HUM was an ALAN pick for September! “Holczer’s beautiful words and insights resonated on each page. The Secret Hum of a Daisy not only takes you on Grace’s journey, but on your own journey through childhood, friendships, and the meaning of home.”

TSHofaD was also chosen as an ABC Best Book of 2014.

In cover news, I saw a mock-up of the paperback coming next summer and am in love! Oxeye daisies galore. Can't wait to show it off when the cover is finalized!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Today is my deadline. And since I am writing this in the past, I sincerely hope I've made it. And since this past version of me has been wearing the same pair of pajamas for...I can't remember how many days, has been pretty much existing on coffee and hard boiled eggs, and has scared all the members of my family into thinking I have indeed fallen into my brain and won't be able to find my way out, I will keep this brief.

And not really about September memories, but memories in general.

Because as a writer, I've found that memories, the good ones anyway, the ones I've told at dinner tables and to my children, are what have made me a story-teller, such as it is. In a large Italian family, all they did, at every gathering and holiday, was tell memory-stories. Embellished, most likely, but fun and meaningful. I learned, from a great many storytellers, how to pick the juiciest and plumpest memories, the ones with a beginning, middle, and most important, punch-line of an ending. We ate them up with the pasta and laughed so hard I choked. On several occasions. Those stories brought me out of my shell and made me feel like I belonged and took root in some deep place inside me.

People ask where my stories come from. I suppose the simple answer is the place where they were planted.

Friday, September 26, 2014

September Theme: Begin Again by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Last week, I pulled out the workings of a novel that I'd started on years ago, as in about 14 years ago. I found the very first draft of the very first chapter, with characters I didn't remember, and a setting that had seemed ideal that day I'd been sitting in the Hungarian Pastry shop, trying to feel cosmopolitan despite Linzer torte powdered sugar falling down the front of my shirt.

Then I dug around a little more and found the later drafts, heavy packets of paper that made me feel guilty (so much paper!) but also went about 200 pages into a story that still tugged at my soul. I found all of the clippings that I'd saved during research: newspaper articles about seals that had wandered into New York City waters, musings on what would actually happen if one fell into a black hole (nothing good), Yoruba folktales, analyses of C.S. Lewis and fairy tales, my photographs from a tour of a secret subway tunnel in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, and more from a sort-of secret swimming pool in the bowels of Columbia University -- one of the oldest indoor pools in the country, featuring a bronze lion's head that once worked as a fountain, spouting water onto the swimmers below. And chapters upon chapters reuniting me with a beloved, difficult, wonderful protagonist and her adventures above and below ground.

I had put it all away a long time ago, having gotten to that point where I could see neither the forest or the trees and needed to step away, for a long while, so that I didn't give up. Because I couldn't give it up. I was stuck, frustrated sick with that on-the-tip-of-my-tongue feeling of a book that dangled just out of reach. But I couldn't let go of it for good, but I had to let go for a while...before it got really, really bad.

Last week, I looked through those dusty, overstuffed accordion files and they breathed -- still living with the magic of story.

It's time to start again.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


2014 has been one of those non-stop years.  I released my first MG.  And my third YA.  So far, I've also written two and a half new books, and am in the midst of doing global rewrites on an MG.  I've done three blog tours and written articles to help spread word of my latest books and hosted about eleventy billion Skypes.  I've done Google+ book chats and engaged in near-daily direct contact with librarians and booksellers.  All of which I've loved.  But I'll confess, it's been an utter roller coaster.  Especially with FERAL, the YA that released last month.

...Have I learned more this year than I ever thought I would?  Yes.  Has 2014 been enlightening in a thousand different ways?  Yes.  Do I know more about myself as a writer than I did this time last year?  God, yes.  But the ups and downs of the past year are starting to exhaust me. 

Usually, September does feel like a fresh start, a new beginning.  Not this year.  Right now, I sort of have the same feeling I used to in May, when the school year was starting to come to a close.  That road weary feeling.

But I know myself well enough to also know that part of this feeling stems from the fact that I'm in the midst of finishing up.  I'm finishing up the last of my blog tours, finishing up a rewrite.  When I get this rewrite done, I'll take a deep breath, and I'll look toward the next project in line: a project I've wanted to get out into the world for a decade.  And I'll get a second wind.  And that September new-beginning feel will finally hit me.

Because it will be--it'll be a brand-new beginning.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom by Dia Calhoun: The Excitement of New Beginnings

I remember how excited I was every September as the new school year dawned. There was the fun of back-to-school shopping with my mother. In those days, this meat a trip to downtown Seattle, not to a mall. It meant lunch out. It meant doing a fashion show for my dad that evening.

And of course September meant a new classroom and a new teacher. I always felt a sense of potential and possibility as I walked to school on the first day. I feel some of that same excitement now when I read the beginning of a new book.

For a fun reading exercise, have students choose three different book beginnings, a paragraph or page, that made them feel excited to read the book. Have them discuss why they found those beginnings compelling.

Then, for a writing exercise, have them write the beginning of their own story in three different ways. Share those with the rest of the class, and have the other students choose which beginning makes them want to continue reading and why.

And have fun.

Monday, September 22, 2014

September Reading by Laurie Calkhoven

There are good and bad things about posting on Smack Dab toward the end of the month. On the positive side, I get to read what everybody else has written about a particular topic and often that awakens an idea for me. On the negative, sometimes I feel as if I have nothing new to add.

I felt that way this month. My September memories are much like those of the other writers on this blog. I, too, delighted in shopping trips, new school supplies, and the idea of a clean slate. I entered every September with optimism and joy. As much as it wasn’t cool to admit it back then, I enjoyed school. Summers were often boring, especially by the end of August.

I thought I had nothing to add, and then I remembered books. Wasn’t it exciting to get all those new books at the beginning of the school year? I can still remember the inky smell of them. And making book covers out of brown paper grocery bags.

But even better, there were the school book clubs. In the beginning of the school year, when the teachers were full of energy and willing to do extra, they passed out those book club flyers and sent them home with us. Those flyers were filled with affordable books, and I almost always got to buy something. Of course I wanted ALL of them, but I could choose one or two.

It was through the book clubs that I discovered Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series, and Marilyn Sachs—my favorite author in fifth and sixth grade—and too many others whose titles and authors elude me. But I can remember the day the book club box would arrive, and the teacher would pass out our books. I can remember the shiny, paperback covers, and the promise of getting lost in the story as soon as I got home from school. I’m sure that happened periodically throughout the school year, but I will always associate that particular joy with September.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Begin anywhere.  John Cage

The major difficulty a writer must face has nothing to do with language; it is finding or making the circumstances that make writing possible.  The first project for a writer is that of constructing a writing life.   David Huddle 

Be worthy of your vocation, which is, after all is said and done, truly a career of danger and daring. George Garrett 

One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience.  Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.  This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.   James Baldwin

You’re the first audience to your work and the most important audience.  Gloria Naylor

To the great artist, anything whatever is possible.  John Gardner

What do I need in order to release my imagination?  Toni Morrison

Fiction is forever fiction; but readers want to believe, if only for a few hours, that their lives and worlds have expanded.  They want to respond as if fiction were real.  Jewell Parker Rhodes

The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.  Junot Diaz



Today, we're joined by Kami Kinard, author of THE BOY PROBLEM and THE BOY PROJECT.  Kami's touching on a subject near and dear to my own heart: creativity and children.

Creativity! It’s one of the best words in the English language. It’s powerful, imaginative, and a whole lot of fun. If we can empower our children to think creatively, we’ve done them a great service. This is true not only because they will experience the joy that goes hand in hand with creating, but also because empowering children to think creatively will help them in all types of fields. In fact, creativity was selected in an IBM Global CEO study as the “most crucial factor for future success.”

I feel so lucky that my mother valued creativity, and I know that became an author largely because I was encouraged to create. We had a walk-in closet sized room in our house that my mother called “the sewing room.” The room housed her sewing machine and scraps of fabric, but also all kinds of other things like old magazines, container lids, glitter, glue, and broken bits of random objects. This was before there was a Michaels or Hobby Lobby in every city.  

The craft supplies my mother kept for creative projects were mostly things that couldn’t really be used for anything else.  These bits and pieces came in handy. Every time I complained about being bored, my mother would say, “Go make me something.” And I did.

I learned to look at the scraps before me and ask myself, “What if?”  What if I try to do it this way? What if I add this to that? What if I start over and approach this differently? I remember creating a doll that boasted a walnut head and had elbows and knees constructed from the bendy parts of straws. I remember making a duck with Gingko leaf feet whose body was made out of clean, fluffy, white, sculpted toilet paper! I remember creating my own magazine copy for the pictures my mother cut from her magazines and kept in a box.

Today, as an author, I am still asking myself, “What if?” What if my main character does this instead of that? What if I add another character to this scene? Even what if I start over and approach this a different way?

When trying to channel creativity, ask yourself the question “What if?” Then think about possible answers. You’ll soon find you have multiple choices!  Pick the answer you like best and you’ve aced the test! For me, that test is a completed manuscript.

My mother helped me develop a creative mind, and the best way I can repay her is to do the same for my children. In a time where we hear that America’s CQ (Creative Quotient) scores are on the decline, and that testing is pushing creativity out of the classroom, it is crucial that we step in and make sure our children are encouraged to think creatively.  

There are so many ways to do this! In addition to the years I spent in the classroom, I have worked to inspire creativity in children through coaching Odyssey of the Mind, sponsoring a Creativity Club, and working as one of my state’s Teaching Artists. Through these experiences I discovered that no matter what the creative endeavor, there is one simple secret to teaching children to successfully embrace creativity.

You must put tools into their hands.

That’s it! My mother didn’t just throw me into an empty room and tell me to make something. She gave me the tools. The scraps I found in the sewing room were the keys to unlocking my imagination.  At Odyssey of the Mind meetings students don’t create something out of nothing. They are given objects such as paper plates and handful of rubber bands and invited to create something. In other words, they are given tools.

Whether I am teaching poetry, art, or creative thinking, I always supply my students with tools. These tools can be words, objects, or sometimes even a set of simple rules that students must follow during the creative process. For example, a student may be asked to write five lines with a repeated word in the last two lines. Rules like this don’t box students in; they give them something to hold onto as they begin their creative climb!

Student work: Found object fish
Encourage the children in your lives to embrace creativity.  Give them tools and cheer their successes! In doing so, you will unleash creativity’s power!

Kami's daughter's sand art

Kami Kinard values creativity to the extent that in both of her novels THE BOY PROJECT (Scholastic 2012) and THE BOY PROBLEM (Scholastic 2014) the main characters are creative, and their creative thinking helps solve their conflicts. An award-winning teacher, she is the co-founder of Kidlit-Summer School Find out more about her by visiting her website

Kami is teaching an online class, Crafting the Kidlit Novel, with fellow author Rebecca Petruck starting October 6. The class will cover the elements of solid novel writing from hook, to pitch, to plot structure, to market discussion. Students will have opportunity for individual feedback from both instructors. (They should count on being asked, “What if?”!) A free critique is being offered to those who register before September 20. Kami would like to extend this offer through September 25 for readers of this post. Send her an email KamiKinard(at)gmail(dot)com with critique in the subject line if you are interested. Click here for a more detailed description of the course: