Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I grew up with more freedom than most kids.  I was a product of benign neglect, a middle child with divorced and absent parents.  If there was something urgent that we needed, my older sister was the "parent" obliged to get it done.  Beyond that slightly-older sibling, I was more-or-less alone out in the world.

Recently, I ran into a man I’d barely known as a kid.  In 1970, we’d gone to the same grade school, and now forty-some years later, he regaled me with stories of how he, and his creepy eighth-grade buddies, used to window-peep at my old house.  That boy, who grew up to be a lawyer, didn’t seem to have a clue how offensive that confession was to his once-victim, the child inside that house unaware that she was watched.   If he had, he wouldn’t have told it as a joke.     

When he’d finally finished laughing, he asked with odd sincerity: “So what happened to your parents?  Why didn’t you have parents?”

I didn’t ask if he had parents.  Of course, I knew that he had parents, and apparently HIS parents let him window-peep at night.

Here’s what he really meant to say when he’d finished his strange story, (I’m a writer; I know subtext):  If your parents had been home, we wouldn’t have lurked outside your house.  In other words, three girls without their parents attracted adolescent voyeurs. Somehow it was a violation we deserved.      
I’d like to think that things have changed, that we’re a more enlightened, compassionate species than we were in 1970, and yet kids surviving on their own are often suspect. We act as if a child unattended is at fault.  We blame them in our neighborhoods and schools, I know we do.  There are kids across this country waking up alone each morning, dressing younger siblings, desperate for clean clothes.  There are kids without a parent to help them with their homework, kids without a grown-up to see that they eat supper, and yet somehow these strong, young ones must survive.  They go to school, they hand in math and spelling, they take state tests with little sleep.  They do everything we’re asking, despite a terrible freedom they’d gladly trade for love.   

In my good dream, every child born would be fed and clothed and cared for, they’d be safely carried from their first breath to their last.  But I know that that’s a dream, just like I know that curse of freedom, and I know that kind of freedom isn’t any child’s fault.  If you come across that child, don’t ask if they have parents.   Drop off a plate of cookies; leave a meal at their door.   Take time to acknowledge the good things that they’ve done.  And by all means, teach your sons and daughters to respect those brave young spirits.  However odd they seem, they’re not a freak show.

They’re strong, and young, and worthy.

Say that.  That’s what should be said.           


Author Kimberley Griffiths Little and Holly Schindler chat about Kimberley's latest MG release, THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES:
What was the inspiration?  Where did the idea for this book come from?

Larissa Renaud, the scarred girl from my novel, Circle of Secrets, only got a couple of very small scenes with Shelby Jayne, the main character. But those scenes were crucial because of her accident and because of her connection to the antique doll owned by her mother. The scene also contained a twist that tied Gwen, the girl from the past who drowned in the bayou, and her beloved doll to the present

I found myself wanting to know more about Larissa, how she got the scar and why her family is living in an antique store. The question of where the doll originally came from was never answered, either. My daydreaming evolved and suddenly there was a curse in the history of this family from 1912 to the present, and Larissa needed to break the curse to prevent the 5 generations of tragedy from repeating once again by saving her mother and baby sister. Once I had that premise, the story contained high stakes and a ticking clock. 

My family’s been involved in the antique business for years—are members of your own family—or are you—a big collector? 

How cool that your family is surrounded by antiques and all that history on a full-time basis! Nope, nobody in my family has ever been in the antique business, but I adore antique stores and I own several antiques, including my dining room table and chairs, plus my gorgeous entryway table that was the first *big* item I ever bought with one of my first writing sales—a story in Family Circle eons ago. I love anything old and dusty and musty with a story behind it!

How did you come to choose Louisiana as the setting?

My first three novels with Scholastic are all set in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana (and I’ve traveled there so much it’s practically my second home now.) Oh, the mystery of that setting! The spooky aura! And the darling, friendly people I’ve grown to love and call friends. I created a fictional town in The Healing Spell and found myself returning to Bayou Bridge for Circle of Secrets and When the Butterflies Came, each from a different viewpoint character, and each a completely different story and character arc. But all four books have little *connections* to the others which the discerning reader will discover and enjoy—and my fan mail certainly proves that, which gives me great pleasure to see readers latching on to those connections.

I loved the way you jump straight into the “creepy” on page one.  That first phone call is bound to hook readers immediately.  Did you already know where your book was going when you drafted the first page?  Do you outline, or is drafting a process of discovery?

I was experimenting to see how fast I could get to the big story question, or mystery, and still ground it in character and setting – all in just a few pages. Plus end the first chapter with a great cliffhanger, of course! 

I did know the basics of where the story was going—I work better that way—but it’s usually just the bare bones of an outline I jot down using 3x5 cards. (If you go to my Youtube channel under my name there’s a video I created explaining my 3x5 Card Plotting.) I only scribble a couple of lines or ideas for each scene or chapter, but I know the direction I’m headed—like seeing a goal far away in a tunnel—and it keeps me from getting stuck or going off on tangents. But drafting is still a surprise as far as specific dialogue and character details, the story growing and developing, often twisting and turning as I write. 

Larissa finds herself traveling back in time, to 1912.  What kind of research did you have to do on this time period?

I’ve always been a huge historical fiction reader, ever since I was a kid. During elementary school my best friend, Starr, and I dressed up in old clothes almost every afternoon after school and played what we called the “Olden Days”. We made up characters and stories and hardships for ourselves. 

I love nonfiction historical reading and reading about other cultures as well as watching movies set in various time periods. One of my all-time favorite movies, Somewhere in Time, is set in 1912. Of course, Fireflies is partially set in an old plantation home and my oodles of research the last ten years came in very handy. After three contemporary novels I just had to set a book in the past.

Family Bibles were once a family’s reference books, and included family trees.  My own great-grandmother treasured such a Bible.  Does your own family have such a historical treasure?

I do not and always wished our family did. Sometimes we put our wishes in our books! All four of my grandparents as well as my father died either before I was born or when I was young, but my mother has a few Army mementos of her father when he was in the cavalry during World War I in England. I adore seeing old things and picturing what it was like to have lived then. Museums are fascinating and I’m one of those patrons that has to read all the little cards with the history and details for each display.

What is your own writing schedule?  Are you an early bird?  Night owl?  Do you write each day? 

I’m an early bird in that I take a 3-mile walk first thing each morning before 7:00, although it’s really hard to get up if I stay up late reading! After a bit of breakfast and a shower, I tend to get sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet, responding to emails, fan mail, business stuff, current marketing projects for the upcoming book or workshops to write, school visits, etc. (I create my own bookmarks, book trailers, teacher’s guides, mother-daughter book club guides, book-based jewelry, and I’m currently experimenting with brownie recipes from The Time of the Fireflies for my book launch party next week). I still love to read blogs about writing and keep up with the online friends I’ve made over the years, plus I love Facebook and Twitter, and I’m a news junkie, too. I’m also the co-founder of the YA Series Insiders ( cross-promotion for my upcoming YA trilogy, Forbidden, with Harpercollins.

The short answer is “no” I do not write every day. But I’m doing research or promotion or revision work or book planning/brainstorming of some kind every single day. 

The business side of writing takes at least 50% of my time so I usually end up drafting in the afternoons. If I’m under a super tight deadline I write in the evenings as well, and almost every Saturday—but never Sundays. I definitely need a day of rest! I squeeze in my pleasure reading whenever I can, before bed, on long car trips, Sundays, etc.

What do your own kids read?  Does that influence what you write?  

I have three sons and they tend to love action stories, high fantasy, science fiction, etc. Also a bit of mystery like The Bourne Identity or other spy thrillers—at least the middle son, who is my biggest reader (and a fantastic brainstormer for me when I need him!)

My own childhood reading influences me more since I was a huge historical fiction reader, who also adored mysteries and read them by the dozens.

Larissa is an outsider, having attended several different schools and moved frequently.  (Her best friend is also off in Paris during her adventurous summer.)  Have you ever experienced being an outsider?  How did that affect your depiction of Larissa?

I didn’t have to move around as a child, thankfully (although I have as an adult), but I was horribly shy. I rarely spoke (my parents were worried about me!) and kept very much in the background at school. I was often part of a threesome friendship—and sometimes felt like a third wheel, left out and alone since the other two girls were more the BFF’s. So I was a loner in many ways and a total, addicted bookworm. I often lived vicariously through books—which greatly worried my 5th grade teacher who wrote a note home to my parents expressing his concern. “But books are better than real life!” (And that’s a direct quote I heard the famous Richard Peck say once many, many years ago at my very first writer’s conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico).

Grandma Kat says that scars inside and out fade with time.  Do you think kids of today believe this to be true?  Or do you think this is a message most people come to believe as they age?  (Younger people are more apt to believe that what is in the mirror will never change?)

Heck, I often think my mirror image will never change—and now it keeps changing much faster than I want it to! Where are those gray hairs coming from? Banish!

I don’t believe kids of today believe scars, either emotional or physical, will ever fade. . . and that’s one of the painful things about growing up. We fear we will be this skinny, or short, or tall, or zit-faced, or suffer weird hair with cowlicks, or whatever. I have a lot of scars that took decades to heal and I wish I hadn’t worried so much about them.

How’d you come up with the doll’s curse?  

I kept thinking about Gwen’s doll from Circle of Secrets in the back of my mind and wondering about the phenomenon of a doll being passed down through the generations of a family—and stolen to boot. A few years ago I heard about a place called the Island of the Dolls in Mexico – extremely creepy – with very disturbing stories of people visiting the island and seeing the dolls move. It didn’t take more than that to weave my story . . .

The title seems to have several different meanings, as the book progresses.  What does it mean to you?

That’s actually kind of funny since the title didn’t come to me until I was finished writing the book and I was doing revisions with my editor. And then, when I sent her the potential title, I worried it was silly or boring. She loved it immediately. Time, of course, plays a huge role in the story. The past, the present, and the future, all intertwined.

Finally, have you ever wished you could reach back in time and talk to your younger self?  If so, what would you say?

I’d say, “Chillax”! Have more fun. Laugh more. Go places. Try new things. Join clubs and groups, reach out and make friends. That’s probably good advice no matter what our age! We often let our fears, frustration, and perceptions about our short-comings and inhibitions prevent us from enjoying this big beautiful world and the intriguing people who inhabit it.


Kimberley Griffiths Little is the critically acclaimed author of several MG novels with Scholastic and an upcoming YA trilogy, FORBIDDEN, with Harpercollins in 2014. She has won the Southwest Book Award, the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2011, starred choice on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, a Crystal Kit runner-up, and a New Mexico Book Award Finalist. Her books have sold several hundred thousand copies in the Scholastic Book Fairs and have been chosen for several state reading lists. She makes super cool book trailers and her first one for The Healing Spell garnered over 8,000 views despite the fact that she was/is a total unknown. Kimberley lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer, and their three sons.

Social Media Links: 


Kimberley's hosting an amazing giveaway!  One lucky winner will receive a
signed hardcover of FIREFLIES, a firefly necklace that glows in the dark and Book Club Cards with a fun Book Club Guide.  5 additional winners will receive a set of Book Club Cards with the Guide. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Not Exactly the Whole Story (Freedom theme) by Kristin Levine

I was going to write this blog post about the fabulous trip I took to New Orleans this past week.  But then I realized my June post was about going to New York City to receive an award, and my July post was about going to the American Library Association conference in Las Vegas, and if I posted about yet ANOTHER wonderful trip, it was going to seem like I had the most perfect little life ever!!
But that's not exactly the whole story.
Because the truth is I got divorced last December, and the carefully constructed life I'd spent the past 20 years building fell apart.  The reason that I went to New Orleans was that my ex-husband was taking the kids to Disney World and I didn't want to be sitting at home alone.
But that's not exactly the whole story either, because that makes me sound like a sad victim.  And in many ways, things are better now, they really are.  Without going into the details of the divorce, now my ex can be who he really is.  He's no longer angry at me and the world for reasons I can't understand.  Now we're co-parents, and dare I say it, friends, or something close enough to it. 
Even our kids seem okay, my older daughter telling my mom, "I'm so lucky to have two parents who love me so much!"  Though I have to admit, sometimes it breaks my heart that my younger daughter will never really remember us living all together.
No matter what you say, it's never exactly the whole story.
In any case, I've had to accept that life is full of changes, some you see coming, and some that rock you so much all you can do is hang on.  I've been trying to cling to the virtues of compassion (both for myself and others) and resilience.  Sometimes I do better than others.
Which brings me back to freedom.  One good thing about my situation is that I've had more free time, more freedom than I've had in years.  So I'm trying to use it, whether it's learning to salsa dance, or making new friends, or going to New Orleans.  The truth is, I didn't decide to take a trip by myself just because I didn't want to sit at home alone.  I also went because a long time ago I decided I wanted to visit all 50 states.  I put that dream away for a while, but I'm dusting it off again.  Louisiana was number 49. 
And I had a great time.  From talking to a woman on the plane who gave me lots of tips about where to go, to listening to a crazy (yet fabulous) Russian guy singing in a packed club, to having beignets with a couple about to graduate from college, to sipping a glass of wine in a piano bar in a candlelit building built in the 1770s, to taking a streetcar, to thinking about the death and birth of dreams in one of those New Orleans cemeteries.  And yeah, did I feel a pang where I saw those romantic couples walking hand and hand down the street?  Yep, I sure did.  But that wasn't the whole story.  Sometimes I felt happy and sometimes I felt lonely, sometimes I laughed and sometimes I cried, but it was a wonderful, complex, marvelous trip.  I didn't squander or waste or curse my freedom, and I have to admit, that felt really good.
So next summer, I'll see you in North Dakota!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Against Freedom (August theme) by Claudia Mills

I loved elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. Graduate school, not so much. Why? After sixteen years of structure, with clearly defined homework assignments and what kids now call "prompts," for the first time I had almost complete freedom to write on any subject of my own choosing. I was paralyzed with the endless possibilities of choice.

Worst was picking the topic for my doctoral dissertation in philosophy, the work that would define me as an emerging young philosopher. Staggered by the enormity of being able to write on any topic in the entire field, I gratefully abdicated that crushing burden of responsibility. I asked a more senior friend what I should write on. "Coercion," he told me. Although I had never given a moment's thought to that subject, one word was all I needed. Off I trotted to the library, found every book and article I could on coercion, read them, asked myself questions about them, and finally thought up something (sort of) fresh and original to say about them and wrote it down. Dissertation: done.

Now as a children's book author, I have the same terror of too much freedom. Should I write a picture book, easy reader, chapter book, middle-grade, YA? What genre: realistic contemporary fiction, historical fiction, a novel in verse? What should it be about? Help!!

I'm happiest when I have some kind of assignment from the publishing gods. Right now I'm working on the fourth book in my Franklin School Friends chapter book series for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I was told they want it to include a spelling bee. Yay! I had already written the first three books in the series: Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, Annika Riz, Math Whiz, and Izzy Barr, Running Star; now the only two previously introduced main characters left were Simon Ellis and Cody Harmon (whose names, alas, won't be able to rhyme with anything). So: a spelling bee book starring Simon.

My imagination leaped into gear. I had something to work on, the way an oyster needs a grain of sand to start forming its pearl. I began brainstorming spelling bee ideas, thinking of funny things for the comically enthusiastic principal to do, challenges that would confront good-at-everything Simon as he strove for spelling bee victory, problems and obstacles that would fit neatly into 15,000 words (not 14,000, not 16,000). I still had plenty of room for creativity and imagination, but now I had a framework to hang them on, an underlying structure to festoon with all the spelling bee sparkle I could summon, which was tons.

Freedom? Pshaw! As for me, I'm freer when I'm less free.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Finding the Balance (August theme - Sarah Dooley)

The tentative theme of my last few years has been freedom: from poverty, from marriage, from the patterns to which I had long been accustomed. The interesting thing about those patterns, though, was that I had, for years, learned to fit my writing in around their edges. Words trickled over the rocky path of my career, slipped through the growing cracks in my marriage, and found their way onto the page in the earliest hours of morning, when I was alone and not yet awake enough to think. By the time the sun rose, my writing day was done.

I didn't think I liked it much.

I longed to spend my days weaving words and spinning yarns, no longer a slave to the demands of jobs and meetings and the social life of a newly-single thirty-something. I wanted to spend the days in my pajamas, sipping coffee and clattering away at the keyboard. I wanted the passing of each hour marked by screen after screen filling up with story.

The stars aligned -- and by the stars, I mean my foot and a misplaced piece of furniture. Shortly after my divorce, and amid the chaos of huge career decisions, a fall and an injury ensured that I would have the time to write at last!  There would be no distractions! No clocking in, no "honey, I'm home," and none of that pesky getting dressed. Just me, my pajamas, my coffee, and my story, all the time.

I tried it for a month or two.

I didn't think I liked it much.

I forgot that stories aren't just written. They happen. And they could not happen to a girl in her pajamas hiding behind her keyboard. Removing myself from my distractions meant removing myself from my inspirations, as well as from the only writing routine I knew. Without being present in the chaos that is life, the best that I could hope to live, and to write, was an outline.

I have since returned wholeheartedly to my comfortable chaos. I admire those for whom full time writing is an option, but as for me, I've found the proper balance. I love my life. I love my job. I love the words that slip in through the cracks. I hope I always have the freedom to write around the edges of so many wonderful pieces of the world.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Strange Freedom by Danette Vigilante

I gained freedom to write every single day when my youngest began college two years ago. No more alarm clocks, absent notes, and the ever dreaded morning rush. Three o’clock no longer meant anything to me.

With my freedom came a couple of revelations though, ones I’m not too proud to admit but not entirely ready to give up yet.

1. I am a lollygagger. Me, the person who always had school forms filled out on time. Me, who never once brought my kids to school late. Me, who always had dinner on the table at 6:30 pm. Me, the dedicated clock watcher.

Because time no longer plays a big part in my life, I've slowed down. This doesn't mean I’m tardy to the party (ha!), or that I don’t take appointments or work seriously, because I absolutely do. It simply means … well, let’s just say I stop to smell the flowers (a lot). It seems I work very well under pressure. How convenient, don’t you think?

2. So, the time thing again. I used to live my life between bookends. Dropping the kids off at school was the first bookend. I then did everything a mom and wife had to do to keep things running smoothly, plus find the time to write. Bookend number two was picking the kids up. Once that happened, my life stopped until the next day. Until that time, I was completely at my family’s disposal. It wasn't a bad thing by any means, I truly enjoyed it. I especially loved having my kids sit at the kitchen table doing homework while I cooked dinner, I think I might miss that the most. Nevertheless: Life Between Bookends.

3. This is the most surprising of all. I used to get more writing done when I was a clock watcher. What? So many flowers to smell!

I’m hoping the freedom thing is still a novelty to me and that I will retire my lollygagness someday soon. I toy with the idea of setting my alarm clock but then I get a hold of myself. I’m just not ready yet!