Tuesday, May 26, 2015

We're The People: An Inclusive Middle Grade Summer Reading List!

We're The People is a wonderful summer reading initiative from children's lit advocates Edi Campbell, Nathalie Mvondo, Sarah Park Dahlen, Lyn-Miller Lachman, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Debbie Reese, and Sujei Lugo. An "inclusive summer reading list", it includes some of my MG favourites like GEEKS, GIRLS, and SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung, Jacqueline Woodson's BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Rita Williams-Garcia's ONE CRAZY SUMMER, N.H. Senzai's SHOOTING KABUL, and MARCH: BOOK ONE from Rep. John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, among a whole host of others. Looking for some MG reads to add to your summer list?  Check out their Pinterest page; add your suggestions and join the conversation on Facebook.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

Because it's almost summer, I can't bear to write about using middle grade books in the classroom. One of my greatest joys as a kid was reading outside.

Our family camping trips looked like this: my father, mother, my brother, sister, and I gatherd around the campfire by American River in the Cascades, reading. Yes, READING. Not fishing, not hiking, not swimming. READING. We would occasionally look up at the towering trees, the rushing water.

Yes, we did play--and eat! At night I would take the flashlight in my sleeping bag and continue reading the pile of library books I'd brought.

May every kid this summer, find the joy of reading outside the classroom.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Permission to Say No by Laurie Calkhoven

I’m a full-time writer, but like 95% of writers out there, I don’t make a living from my books. I write a lot of what I call “other people’s books.”  Some have my name on them. Some don’t. Some are fiction (contemporary, historical, fantasy, mystery). Some are nonfiction. I’ve learned something from most of the projects I’ve worked on and believe they’ve improved my craft in some way.

But the most valuable project I ever had was also the worst. I had written a mystery in a long-running middle grade series that both the publisher and the author of record were happy with, and I was asked to write another. I submitted an outline. It was approved. I wrote the book and sent it off.

Then the trouble started. I’m not sure what set the author-of-record off, but he sent a scathing letter, ripping apart plot elements he had approved in the outline and attacking my intelligence, my "paltry" vocabulary (I had used the word “stolen” in TWO chapter titles), and even my indentations (I had neglected to indent one paragraph, making me an inconsistent indenter). The letter was insulting and disrespectful and unfair.

As frustrating as that was, I am a professional and so I rewrote the book. The editor recognized the unfairness of it all and did the right thing by increasing my fee. The book was finally approved and I was finished, I thought, forever, with that horrible man and his series. And then I got an offer to write two more!?!

I needed the money. The recession had just hit and the income from these two books would have seen me through a good chunk of time. But I gave myself permission to say no. And it felt wonderful.  From then on, I’ve been clear about working with people who show me basic respect, appreciate my creative contribution, and pay me what I’m worth.

Giving myself that permission to say no was the best thing I’ve ever done as a writer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Permission to ask for what you're worth (May theme) Kristin Levine


I had two fabulous school visits this month, both at schools that were K-12.  One was at a beautiful private school in New York City.  A student played Mozart on the piano as everyone walked into the assembly room!!  Apparently, that's a tradition there... all I know if that I've never seen students come into for a book talk so quietly and calmly.


Central Park

Another visit was at a wonderful public school in Florida.  All the students had written and published their own books.  I had a great time talking with them about my books, and reading what they had themselves written.
Love the Florida School mascot!!

These visits got me thinking about giving yourself permission to ask for what you're worth.  It's funny, you'd never ask your doctor to come over to your house and diagnose everyone in your family "just for fun," but I suspect that pretty much every one of us writers has been asked to do a book event for free.
And sometimes that's okay.  Sometimes, if you're just starting out or it's nearby or for a friend, that's what you want to do. 
But it's also okay to ask someone to pay you for your time.  Last fall the private school in NYC wanted me to come sign books at their book fair.  They were willing to pay for my train fare, but that still meant I would lose an entire day of writing and have to figure out childcare for my two kids.  So, figuring they would probably say no, I asked them to pay me an honorarium.
They said yes.
And then asked me back in May. 
Clearly, I hadn't offended anyone.  And I needed the money!  But I'm still amazed at how hard it can be to say, "I'd love to come, but I'll going to need payment for my time."  However, when the Florida school came calling, I spoke up again.  And you know what?  They said "yes" too.
It's a great job we have as writers.  It's an honor to be able to talk to young people and inspire young readers and writers.  But still, like doctors and lawyers, our time is worth something.  And it's okay to speak that truth aloud.
Kayaking while in Florida




Monday, May 18, 2015

Permission to Write . . . About Them (May theme) by Claudia Mills

The hardest "Mother, May I?" question I wrestle with as an author is not asking mother, father, sister, husband, children if I may write at all, but whether and how I am allowed to write about them.

I write realistic fiction. I draw on my own childhood memories. I draw on my parenting experiences. How could I get those details that ring so true, those "you just can't make this stuff up?" moments, if I didn't borrow lavishly from real life? But in writing about my own real life, I inevitably write about the real lives of those whose lives are inextricably intertwined with mine. I can't write about me without writing about them. And don't they have some legitimate claim not to have their fears, foibles, and failures shared with readers? But if I don't write about the darker side of being human, how am I going to produce books anybody is going to want to read?

These are questions I struggle with every single writing day.

I don't have easy answers here, in case you were hoping to get some at last. But here are two guidelines I give myself.

I do disguise real life heavily; I almost never write anything "exactly the way it happened," if this were even possible. I do this not only for the sake of the human beings who provide my inspiration for a given scene, but to bring out the scene's narrative possibilities more fully: to make the story better and funnier than real life - and definitely with a more satisfying ending. I'm wary of any author who defends the improbable features of her story by protesting, "But that's how it really did happen."

I do try to be kind toward all my characters. I try to see "where they are coming from," to write about them in a way that is both "microscopically truthful," to quote Brenda Ueland, and as wise and charitable as I can be. I really do believe that if God were to write a book about any of us - and authors do assume a godlike stance toward their characters - we would end up as sympathetic and "relatable" characters, seen through God's loving eyes.

Luckily for me, I haven't been tempted to write a memoir yet, where I'd have to run afoul of my first guideline. I'm trying hard to honor the second one - though I just violated it in a current work-in-progress, giving such an unflattering portrait of my protagonist's father (actually, NOT based on anyone I know) that my editor rightly sent it back for a total re-do. And guess what the book is about? It's about a seventh grade writer who is wrestling with the question of whether and to what degree she can write about - and seek publication for - a story about her own family.

Maybe when twelve-year-old Autumn Granger figures this out in Write This Down, I'll know the answers, too.





Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not Permissible (May Theme - Sarah Dooley)

Too often, I give myself permission to stop writing -- or sometimes to skip it entirely.

“I should work on my class instead.” “The sink is full of dishes.” “I’m just not feeling it. Everything I write will be worthless anyway.”  “It’s been a hard day and I deserve a break.” 

I wonder how it would affect my productivity if I consistently treated writing like I do my other responsibilities? After all, when I drag myself out of bed on Monday morning for work, I don’t feel like getting started, either. It’s Monday. The sink is still full of dishes and I still deserve a break. When I clock in at nine, I’m dragging my feet. But by ten, I am in the swing of things, making quick decisions, and saying to myself, “Oh, yeah – now I remember why I love my job!”

I love my job as a writer, too. I deserve to give myself time to do it well. I hereby give myself permission to leave the sink full. To get off the couch. To write a few bad paragraphs – or pages – or chapters, if that’s what it takes. To stick with it until I hit my stride. To write until it hits me – and it always does -- “Oh, yeah! I love being a writer!”


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saving Myself from the Flames by Danette Vigilante

Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!

That’s what my author brain screams when I've had too much worry (are my book babies okay out there in the world?), emotional digging (building believable characters), and yardstick measuring (who am I kidding, I don’t measure up to all those wonderful authors). 

So I do. I retreat into my comfy shell and rest (well, not really rest. I do laundry. Lots of it.). Retreating is necessary in my world and I've grown to accept it.

It doesn't take long for me to venture back out of my shell and when I do, I’m more than ready to jump in and get going again.


I give myself permission both for retreat, and re-entry because after all, nobody knows what’s best for me better than I do. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Permission (May Theme) by Bob Krech

Most of the time I've thought about permission and writing in light of how I've sometimes given myself permission to write about certain things, take chances, and perhaps fail. There have been people along the way in my writing life who have given me permission to do this as well. Like my parents. And my teachers. And my wife and kids. I've also had editors who have given me permission to go forward with a new idea or a change in a manuscript when they didn't completely see where it might be going or if it was indeed a good idea.

Today I am giving myself permission to put writing on hold for the next three days as I go down to North Carolina to see my daughter graduate from Guilford College, celebrate with her friends, family, and relatives, and then orchestrate the dreaded packing up of the apartment. The next stop for her is New York City and an internship at a small publisher and book packager. My little baby girl living and working in NYC?!

Yes.  I gave her my permission. Ha!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Permission from the Universe to Write - May Theme by Tamera Wissinger

Whether it’s a learned work ethic from my Midwestern upbringing or something that comes naturally, I’m the type of person who feels the need to get my work done before I can play. It’s something about myself that I like – for the most part. I enjoy working hard and looking forward to something fun to do later. When it came to writing, though, I struggled. Because writing was fun and it was always something I looked forward to doing after my work was done. The problem was, the “real work” never seemed to be done and so the fun of writing constantly took a back seat.

Then one day, I either looked at my horoscope or received wisdom from a fortune cookie. It said, simply:

Expand your definition of work.

Five small words, but the message was huge. If I expanded my definition of work to include my writing, then writing would be something that I needed to attend to, not something that was relegated to any leftover time I might have in my day. It felt as though the universe had given me permission to write  – and when the universe speaks so clearly, I pay attention.  

Writing isn’t my top priority or only priority, but now it is one of my priorities – something that’s both a joy and hard work. Thank goodness for this small message that helped me change how I think about writing and how I write.
~~~~~


Tamera Wissinger is the author of GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse, THIS OLD BAND, and the forthcoming THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK (02/2016) and GONE CAMPING (2017). She is a graduate of Hamline University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program where writing for children is serious work. Now Tamera attends to the work and play of writing nearly every day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WRITING A SEQUEL + TIME OUT OF TIME GIVEAWAY: MAUREEN DOYLE MCQUERRY



 Marueen Doyle McQuerry's joined us today to discuss the often daunting process of writing a sequel; two lucky winners will be receiving a copy of THE TELLING STONE!

Writing a Sequel: 5 Things to Think About

When I sold the The Time Out of Time series to Abrams, I’d already written the entire story and envisioned it as a trilogy.  But Abrams wanted the three books put into two. What? How would I take my carefully written trilogy and restructure it so that it made sense as two books?  One of the big decisions was where to split the narrative. Editor Howard Reeves and I went back and forth. The story changes location from the U.S. to Scotland. It covers more than a year in life of the characters. Some of the best and most obvious stopping places would make for books of unequal length. This forced me to consider questions about sequels that I hadn’t given much thought to before. What makes a sequel work? How do you balance the adventure and risk equally? Below are 5 things I believe every author should consider when writing a sequel.

Episodic VS Continuous

Is your story a continuous journey over time, a journey in which your characters age? Think Harry Potter. Or is your story episodic, one more adventure in the never ending world of middle grade? Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  If it is a continuous journey, you have to pay attention to how time as well as events will change and mature your characters.  You must seed the first book with things that come to fruition in following books, and you must think about story goals. Every character wants something. In a continuous series, what the character wants must be large enough to carry that hope and risk over time. It must take the arc of the series to reach your character’s desires.

The Two Book Syndrome/ Upping the Stakes

Whether the rumor is justified or not, everyone has heard it. You know the one…the second in the series, either book or movie, rarely lives up to the first. Why? In the first book everything is new, the characters, the premise, the stakes. To combat that perception, the second book has to up the stakes for the characters the readers have already come to know, and hopefully, love. The risk to them personally must be greater.

I took a risk with The Telling Stone. A major battle occurs in the first act, just about 30 pages into the story. I also put the characters at greater risk. Timothy had been removed from the action at the end of book 1 to help his mother. He left his sister enchanted and trapped by Balor. He left Jessica at the Market alone. Now he must find his way back on the eve of a great battle. Jessica is alone and believes she is solely responsible for her friend, Sarah’s, safety. And Sarah, well she may never be free again.


Backstory

This is one of the trickiest lines to walk. How do you thread in material from book 1 for readers who begin with book 2. The Telling Stone has a short prologue, which is a risk. However, it is the only time in the two books that we enter the antagonist, Balor’s, POV. Instead of an information dump, the reader watches what he does in the dark when no one is watching, learns what he wants and realizes this character should be feared.

Dialog is your friend when it comes to threading crucial information from the first story. The goose woman reminds Jessica of “a terrible deed” she once committed. Nom recounts his ordeal when he was trapped and held in a cage by the Animal Tamer.

Ask how much information the reader needs to become involved in the story of book 2. And then thread just that and no more into the story. 

POV 

After Beyond the Door came out, I often asked readers during school visits who their favorite character was in the story. Jessica, the bully who had the greatest transformation, was the winner in most every case. That bit of information informed one of my choices for the sequel. I started the book in Jessica’s POV. Both books remain most frequently in Timothy’s POV. Readers identify with the POV character and would feel cheated if that changed, but changing up the POV to allow readers a peek inside other favorite characters can keep interest building in a series.

Character ARCS

The greatest indicator of readers’ satisfaction is character arc. We like to see how our favorite characters overcome all their troubles in a story, and we expect those characters to change as a result. In a series, you have to think about the character arcs in each story and the character arcs over the entire series. In Beyond the Door Jessica went from being a bully who made Timothy’s life miserable to a friend. By the end of book 2, she is actively working to help other people even when it puts her at risk. She’s humble, except for occasional relapses, and is given the gift of a healer, the antithesis of a bully. 

By the end of book 1 Timothy’s bravery is no longer in question. He’s risked his very life for Jessica. By the end of book 2, he’s grown into his new title of Filidh. He’s discovered who he was meant to be.

The Telling Stone came out yesterday. If you want to discover if the stakes are upped, you’ll have to read Beyond the Door first. But if the story works, you’ll be able to read it as a stand alone as well. What are secrets to sequel success?


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Permissions and Gratitude by Darlene Beck Jacobson

I am grateful for all the permissions bestowed upon me in my life. As a child, my parents gave me permission to fail without fear of ridicule.  This allowed me to try again - a useful skill for a writer.
      Classroom teachers gave me permission to express myself in my own way - not the way everyone around me might have done.  By marching to my own drum I developed creativity and curiosity.  Both have served me well.
      As a parent I gave myself permission to enjoy childhood for a  second time, through the eyes of my children.  And, as a writer, I now have permission to rewrite pieces of my own childhood and call it fiction.
      Permission has come full circle for me recently.  Last month I received a congratulatory note from my publisher of WHEELS OF CHANGE telling me that the State of New York asked permission to publish an excerpt from the book for the Language Arts portion of their state test.
      A small bit of my story will be read for years to come in one small part of the country.
      I gave myself permission to celebrate.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Writer's Take on a Moviemaker's Sentiment*

(Or One Day I MAY Learn, by Jody Feldman)

As someone who would love to take all the easy roads ...
As someone who continues to make the mistake of rushing the process ...
As someone who is still learning the art of taking stories to their highest levels ...
I need to have this quote engraved on the frame of my computer’s monitor:

"I know that if a film is ready to emerge out of what I write, I'll be able to go off and make it without asking anyone's permission."
    -- Francis Ford Coppola

*The sentiments in this post follow what my agent recently told me after reading a new manuscript, something I shouldn't have sent to her until a real book was ready to emerge.

Sunday, May 10, 2015



May Theme: WOODFORD BRAVE
By Marcia Thornton Jones

There are some stories that mean more than others. For me, that story is WODODFORD BRAVE. Why? Because of my mother.

When I needed first-hand information for Cory Woodford’s coming-of-age story set during WWII, I turned to my mother, Thelma Kuhljuergen Thornton. At the time, I had no idea how my mother’s stories would continue to resonate long after the writing of WOODFORD BRAVE was done. But now, as I read through the ARC, I am struck with how vivid my memories are of sitting in Mom’s den and listening to her talk about living and loving during World War II.
 
So while I read about how my main character, Cory, struggles with what it means to be a hero like his father who is fighting in the war, I remember Mom reminiscing about when she was a telephone operator and how on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor all the switchboards lit up at once; how all the operators knew something big had happened…they just didn’t realize how big it was at the time.

And as Cory searches for rubber tires to complete a go-cart in order to compete in a backyard competition, I’m remembering Mom telling how rationing was an inconvenience; that they all just lived with it because they had to…but that what was worse for herself and all her friends was the fact that the boys were gone to war and there was no one to date!

When Cory tries to convince his friends that it’s up to them to keep their town safe from a Nazi spy, I’m remembering Mom telling me how my uncle spoke at a Main Street rally to encourage people to support the war effort by buying bonds.

And when Cory and his friends go on a spy mission of their own and end up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars where girls dance with soldiers, I’m remembering Mom telling me about meeting a sailor who was home on leave because his ship had been torpedoed. A handsome man with deep-brown eyes. A sailor whose name was Robert Edwin Thornton.

WOODFORD BRAVE is not my mother’s story; it’s pure fiction. But weaving my mother’s experiences and memories through the pages of Cory’s story challenged me as both a writer and as a daughter because I wanted to get it right. For Cory.

And for my mother. Who just happens to be my best friend.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Do I have permission?

My daughter is an amazing writer. Her characters jump off the page. She's brilliant at illuminating painful moments. But my daughter doesn't write anymore. When I asked her why, she said that plenty of people have already written whatever a privileged college student would say. She said the world needs to hear from different voices now. I couldn't argue with her. In fact, I had to ask myself--should I feel the same way?

Last year I was thrilled to be asked to write a fictional version of Mary Jemison's life--a young girl who was captured during the French and Indian War. Mary was adopted by two Seneca sisters, to replace their brother who had been killed by the colonists. Mary remained with the tribe for the next 65 years, even though she could have returned to her own kind.

Historical plaque in Adams County, Pennsylvania

Mary Jemison statue
at Letchworth State Park
 in New York


I loved learning about Mary and the Seneca, but the more I discovered, the less qualified I felt to write the story. How dare I, a middle-aged white woman, write with any authority on the Seneca? True, I had "permission" from the editor who hired me. True, modern Seneca are vastly different from those who lived in the 18th century. True, Mary wasn't a Native American either. But I knew someone who was would write a different story.

I did my best to be respectful to the Native American culture. But I'm still troubled by the problem of authenticity.

I know full well that too many voices have been excluded from the conversation for far too long. They must be encouraged. We need to learn from their lives. And yet, I don't want to tell versions of my own story over and over. Are we only allowed to write about our own experiences?

In the end, I gave myself permission to speak for Mary. I'm proud of my book--particularly the sections where Mary struggles to assimilate into an unfamiliar culture!

Ultimately I believe the answer is always to encourage more reading, more books, and more writing by more kinds of people---including ones like me who became writers in order to learn about new people and new worlds.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May Theme - Permissions by Deborah Lytton

How often do we give ourselves permission to make mistakes? But that's exactly what our best writing demands. I am a perfectionist by nature. I was a good student in school because I followed the rules, turned in my assignments on time and was always prepared for my tests. But writing doesn't ask us to follow the rules. Yes, we need to meet our revision deadlines and be prepared for discussions with agents and editors, and if we are lucky enough, promotion on our books. But all that comes later--after we've written the best book we can write. Maybe I love writing so much because when I write, I give myself permission to take chances. To try fitting words together that don't make sense or to write a character no one will never like but somehow make him loveable. I give myself permission to write poetry through my characters even though in real life, I would be hesitant to try writing poetry. Sometimes, I write entire sections of a book and the next day realize not one word actually works. But somehow, through the process of writing those non-working words, I find the ones that make the entire story come to life. I am raising my daughters to accept their mistakes in life because through those mistakes, they will learn who they are. Can't the same reasoning apply to our work? In our writing, we can find our voices through making mistakes, because sometimes, that one mistake may be your best writing of all.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Paying it Forward Giveaway by Tracy Holczer

It's a new cover!
It's paperback release day!! And in celebration of what the kidlit universe has given me over the last year, I'd like to return the gesture, so I'm going to give away some stuff. And because I am pushing the last few miles in the marathon that has been Book 2, I need some inspiration to carry me over the finish line!! Write your favorite inspirational quote in the comments section and you will be entered to win:

1. Any book of your choice (really, any book. go crazy) and a paperback copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy.

OR

2. Any book of your choice, a paperback copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy AND a critique of the first three chapters of your middle grade novel or query letter.

OR

3. Any book of your choice, a paperback copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy AND a free Skype visit with moi for your book club/students/poker night/whathaveyou.

And here is my quote for youse (and me):

"Confidence is a choice. It isn’t a feeling that will come along one day, after you’ve accomplished stuff, and knock you in the head. It’s about making a decision to change your behavior and then making that decision over and over and over again for the rest of your life or until you don’t have to think about it anymore."--Toni McGee Causey


Monday, May 4, 2015

Megan: What Would Judy Do?

There are a lot of unwritten (sometimes unspoken) rules when writing for children. Lately one of the most pernicious is that if you want your book to have "universal" appeal, it should be about boys, or at least feature a significant boy character. And forget anything girly. Princesses, no way. Pink cover, that's out, too, if you want to reach both boys and girls.

At least that's the conventional wisdom.

So over a year ago when I found myself sitting in the library writing a scene about Ruth, the main character of what would become The Friendship Riddle, going on a mortifying bra shopping trip with her mother, I didn't think it would stay in. I was working at a middle school at the time and trying to write the most honest version of 6th grade that I could. Bras and who needs them or doesn't had already received some attention in the story, but I figured that's where it would end. The bra-shopping scence felt almost like an exercise, which was very freeing.

But then the scene turned out really well. Not only was it honest, but it also moved the plot forward and deepened the characterization. That question of universality was knocking around in my head, especially since the rest of the cast of chracters was made up mostly of boys. As I considered whether to keep or cut, I asked myself, "What would Judy Blume do?" thinking of how my fifth grade friends and I passed around Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. That novel was honest about our changing bodies in a way that we could find no where else. So I kept the scene. Maybe it will make boys uncomfortable. But I think to make that assumption doesn't give boys much credit.

I used to run a middle book club with mostly boy members. One of our books was Small Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem. It's a book about fairies. There's some boy-girl stuff. And some girl puberty stuff. The cover has sparkles. The boys didn't bat an eye. They read the book and discussed it with the same enthusiasm of all our other titles.

No one book is for every reader, but dictating your writing based on broad assumptions about boys, girls, and "universality" is a recipe for stale writing. Instead, try asking, "What would Judy do?" and follow her lead to honest and authentic writing.



P.S. The Friendship Riddle is out tomorrow and you can see for yourself how it all turned out.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

With Thanks to Kathleen Duey

At my very first SCBWI conference (2006) I sat at in a high school classroom with other writers in a circle of desks around a new-to-me author Kathleen Duey. She was talking about her series The Unicorn's Secret, and then she was talking about writing in general, and suddenly I was sitting there with tears streaming down my cheeks.

I don't remember what she said exactly. I have no notes in my notebook, only tearstains. But I suspect, looking back, what she was giving me was PERMISSION. Permission to write, permission to be me, permission to write the stories in my heart.

Which is why, all these years later I still attend conferences, sometimes as an attendee, sometimes as an instructor. Each one of us needs that moment of permission, over and over again. Ultimately, it's a gift we give ourselves.







Saturday, May 2, 2015

May Theme: Permissions By Ann Haywood Leal




When I was in sixth grade and I finished writing my novel on one hundred pages of pastel-colored notebook paper, my mom read it cover to cover, joyfully.  I watched her eagerly from off to the side, drinking in every smile and soft laugh as she turned the pages.  Her reviews were always like a starred Kirkus.  "What are you going to write next?" she always asked.

My fragile sixth grade self was all pumped up with pride, so of course I wanted to tell my best friend about my new novel.  What would an eleven-year-old book nerd do?  Write to Judy Blume, of course.  Mom helped me find her publisher's address and didn't crack one smile when I told Judy Blume I was interested in having my novel published.  Then Mom celebrated right along with me when Judy wrote back (twice!) with her gracious writerly and motherly advice.

When I decided to send my book out to E.P. Dutton, Judy Blume's publisher, Mom didn't even bat an eye.  She just helped me find the address.  Then she commiserated with me when I got the rejection postcard.

Fast forward to my adulthood when I had moved on from colored notebook paper, and was sending my book out on actual double-spaced computer paper.  Mom was still eagerly reading my work.  Not a phone call or a visit went by without her asking, "Have you heard yet?  Keep writing.  A publisher is sure to take it soon."  Meanwhile, the rejections were piling up.

Mom got sick and passed away very suddenly without ever being able to hold one of my books in her hand.

But on that day when a publisher finally said yes, I knew she was up in heaven saying, What's your next book going to be about?