Thursday, December 30, 2021

Giveaway! Edith Cohn's Birdie's Billions + Swag!

We're delighted to host a giveaway of Edith Cohn's latest, Birdie's Billions. More about the book, straight from the author:

"I wanted to write a book about an impulsive kid who doesn't always make the right choices. I used to teach 7th grade, and one of the kids I taught inspired me. I also wanted to write a book about how economic differences between schools, neighborhoods and libraries can create an enormous gap for kids. I grew up feeling these differences. I also taught in the South Bronx, so this was an important subject for me. And I wanted to write these things inside a high stakes mystery novel that might appeal to reluctant readers, and ideally all readers. My goal was not to be just an issue book, but to write a good story with this at its heart."

--Edith Cohn


Now for the giveaway:

Just use the form below to enter. Contest winners will be contacted after January 13. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

There is No GPS in Life...

By Charlotte Bennardo

Photo by Ian Beckley from Pexels

So many roads, not enough time. Our lives are a series of crossroads and paths. Every decision we make sets us on a journey, possibly a different direction. When it came time to apply to college, I chose one that was far away from my hometown. That choice was predicated on being on my own, not having to live at home and commute. The next choice was to try and find a journalism job in Upstate New York, where I'd gone to college. After that, I made a decision to return to my hometown, leaving the boyfriend and his marriage proposal. Other paths have taken me to numerous jobs, several degrees, a number of moves through several states to where I am today. It's easy to say that I might make different choices if I could go back in time, but hindsight is 20/20, and not knowing how the changes would affect my life, it's easy to say I might do things differently. Only Ebenezer Scrooge had an easy choice- remain a mean, stingy, odious man (to quote one of the versions) or change and become a generous, kind man. If only all decisions were that easy!

The last 'big' decision I made was to go for my MFA. I wanted to take this road but life, finances, time, and circumstances were impediments that were too hard to overcome at the time. When I finally made the decision to go for it, I was nervous and worried, and actually considered dropping out. Would it be another road, or maybe better yet, road abandoned, turned back on? But I stuck it out. Whatever path, road, journey we choose might not be for the best, but we have to take ownership of it. Sometimes there are hard lessons to learn, so the choice, in the overall picture, was important in our life. Other times, we need to turn around, go back, and start over, choosing a wiser path. 

Wishing you wisdom and serenity in the choices you'll make in the New Year.

Charlotte writes MG, YA, NA, and adult novels in sci fi, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal genres. She is the author of the middle grade Evolution Revolution trilogy, Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons. She co-authored the YA novels Blonde OPS, Sirenz, and Sirenz Back in Fashion. Currently she is working on several novels for both children and adults. She lives in NJ with her family, two demanding cats, and a crazy squirrel couple who just moved into her backyard oak tree.

Thrilling Roads Not Taken

Once upon a time, there was a writer who had a wonderful agent. 

The agent got this great idea for a thriller--a "whodunit" kind of book with twists and turns and edge-of-your-seat action. 

The agent offered the idea to the writer, who agreed to give it a try.

Weeks went by. Then months. Finally, the writer had finished. She had written a thriller.

Only the thriller wasn't really all that...well, thrilling. Try as she might, the writer just wasn't cut out for that kind of writing.

The writer tucked the unthrilling thriller away and went back to writing things that were funny.

The End.

 The moral of this story? Some roads shouldn't be taken, because they're not your road. And that's OK.  

Ginger Rue's current book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields. (Ironically, it's pretty thrilling!)

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Happy Holidays! (Holly Schindler)

 Merry Christmas! I hope you're all in the midst of a truly lovely holiday season.



Holly Schindler is an author of books for readers of all ages. Her MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, has been re-released with a corresponding activity book.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter Solstice Tree 2021: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Every year my imagination conjures a new Winter Solstice Tree design. I make a sketch, think of a limited color palette, gather materials, and try to make my vision a reality. As always in the process of bringing a vision--whether story, art, poetry--into reality, changes are inevitable. The artist learns to listen to her materials, her evolving characters, images, or metaphors to learn what they have in mind. Often the process is a struggle.

The tree I brought home had a symmetry to the top--two green branches on each side are held up like green arms. This brought the first change. Then two of the original materials didn't work as I had hoped. As I worked with the materials that did work, I listened to what they wanted to do.

They wanted to do something different from my vision.

The struggle continued. I was uncertain until nearly the end, when an unplanned combination of materials happened at the top. First, I placed a little crystal, decorative pick on top of the moon. To me it looked like a little tree. A day later, simply to hide the silver wire that formed the pick base, I hung a chandelier drop over it. When I climbed down the ladder, I looked up and saw a silver tree/angel with two red, uplifted branch arms (branches wired in earlier). It looks like a celestial tree at the top of the earthly, green tree.  

For a tree to grow up to the starry crown, it needs deep roots. The artist needs to hold her ground in order to permit the creative tension to bring something new into being. Allow, rather than force. Drive the car rather than push it.

In the coming, lovely symmetrical year numbered 2022, may we all stay connected to our ground in order to reach, and withstand the starry, creative heights.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Emma Wisdom

 I've shared this before, but it seems the perfect time to share this wisdom from Emma Dryden of drydenbks

As we navigate grading final papers and final projects, thesis manuscripts and reports. Christmas shopping. As we negotiate family, in all its complex and messy dynamics. Cooking. Cleaning. Decorating. When ghosts of Christmas past meet the present. As we steer through pandemics and politics. Dentist appointments. More revisions and more research. Don't forget to feed the cat. Don't forget the chocolate.

Don't forget to make time for yourself.

Thinking of you, and sending you wishes for great feasting and merry making this holiday season! 

-- Bobbi Miller

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Kids have the best ideas! by: Jennifer Mitchell

 As a teacher I spend a lot of time planning, but at times lessons take unexpected turns along the way, and that is what keeps teaching from year to year fun and interesting. One of the books we read in third grade is Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.  We read it to look at character development.  Most kids aren’t familiar with the book, and don’t realize at the end little Willy’s dog Searchlight will die as he crosses the finish line for the National Dogsled Race. It is always good that kids haven’t read it so they can’t spoil it for others. It however causes shock and confusion and sadness with the kids when the story is over. When I am reading it, even though I know what happens, it still gets me every time too.

One year I had a group of kids just not satisfied at all with the ending, so we as a class decided to create our own alternative ending.  The kids were so invested in changing the story to make something that felt good to them.  If I had planned to create an alternative ending I am sure kids would have done a nice job with it, but since they had suggested it it became an engaging and authentic experience for them.  As a teacher sometimes the direction that kids want to go, instead of the “plan” for the week, can create experiences that you don’t forget as a teacher.  If you listen, and are willing to be flexible and try something new, kids can come up with amazing ideas!

Jennifer Mitchell -- teacher in the Kansas City area

Sunday, December 12, 2021

An Unexpected Path by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 When my first middle grade book debuted in 2014, I was asked to provide some blurbs for the back cover. I'm sure we've all had to do this for our books. WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston) is a historical novel set in 1908 Washington DC during the last year of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.

 In the story, the main character Emily gets invited to the White House and meets TR. (This scene was inspired by my own paternal grandmother who actually did attend a reception at the White House and met TR. 

Around that time, I came across a book review for a debut novel written by Kermit Roosevelt, the great-great grandson of TR. Kermit is a professor of law at University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia. 

Empowered by the phrase "nothing ventured, nothing gained" I located Kermit's faculty email. I sent a message explaining my grandmother's brief connection to his ancestor and wondered if he'd be interested in reading my novel for a possible blurb.

He graciously said yes!  This is what he wrote:

Needless to say, I was delighted that my bold ask met with such a wonderful response.

When the book came out, I sent a second email letting him know I wished to present him with a signed copy as my thank you  for his kindness.

He invited my to come to his office on the U Penn campus. A place I'd never been to except for the awesome Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. (A worthwhile stop if you're ever in the University City section of Philly)


Not only did I get to shake his hand and delight in his office decorated with floor to ceiling books and photos of his famous great great grandfather, he graciously posed for a picture to commemorate the event.

 By taking a path unknown and being open to where it might lead, I shared a once-in-a-lifetime moment I will remember forever. 

Have faith...and don't let the voice that doubts or dismisses an idea or closes a door that could lead to something new stop you.

Follow the unknown path and see where it will lead.

Darlene Beck Jacobson is always peeking through doors and walking on paths she's never been. She enjoys sending out emails to people she's never met in hopes of learning something new. TR is one of her favorite presidents.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Road Not Taken -- by Jane Kelley

 Here I am -- deciding which path to take.

Actually that isn't me. That's a coyote in our backyard. I thought you'd rather see a picture of that than of me banging my head against a wall. 

Because deciding which path to take is HARD.  

There are so many choices when we write. What story, what character, what will the character do, what will the other characters do––even what will they wear, for god's sake. If only there were actual roads to choose when we write. But there aren't. Writing is like hacking through a jungle. Or wading through snow drifts in a blizzard. Or staring at the swirling screen saver on our computers.

Each small step matters. A lot. Yes, one can retrace if necessary, but our resources are limited. Do I really want to spend my life rewriting this frigging scene? Of course not! So each day I try to make better choices. What's fun. What's important. What leads away from blank walls and toward adventure.

A long time ago I made an extremely important choice. Before I published my middle-grade novels, I wrote novels for adults. Three, maybe four? I've let time fade them from my memory. They weren't exactly bad. They just weren't good enough. I didn't know that until, having failed to sell them, I tried to write something else. Those first chapters of what would become Nature Girl felt like a miracle. Not because they were so tremendous––they'd need a lot of rewriting, too ––but because they had actual life.

 George Saunders, in his brilliant book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, talks about how he teaches his students to think about what kinds of writers they will be.

"As young writers, we all have romantic dreams of being a writer of a certain kind, of joining a certain lineage. . . But sometimes the world, via its tepid response to prose written in that mode, tells us that we are not, in fact, that kind of writer." 

Even George Saunders––yes, MacArthur, Guggenheim, Man Booker prize-winning, best-selling author George Saunders, couldn't answer that question when he began his career. He wanted to write like Hemingway. It took him years to discover that he was supposed to write like George Saunders. 

Thank goodness he did! But at the moment he discovered his turf, he confesses to feeling disappointed too. "It is less than we wanted it to be, and yet it's more too." Because that place is uniquely our own. 

And if, as he says, we commit to it and to ourselves, then we can eventually make our patch of jungle into a place where other people will enjoy traveling.

That coyote, by the way, headed east across our yard. First she looked back.

Was she wondering if she had made the right choice? Or was she appreciating that she didn't have to go toward more suburban neighborhoods, with larger houses and manicured lawns. She could go where there was more woods. Where there would be better hunting. And where what she would find life.

Jane Kelley is currently rewriting that frigging scene for the umpteenth time. But she's confident that she will create more middle-grade novels like Nature Girl, The Girl Behind the Glass, and The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya.

Friday, December 3, 2021

No Such Thing as The Road Not Taken by Irene Latham

 When I present to groups, I often share the "When I Grow Up, I Want to Be..." page in my Dr. Seuss' My Book About Me:

On that page, 3rd grade me wrote "WRITER"... and also circled "mother," "musician," "farmer," and "veterinarian."  I wanted to be a lot of things! And so it may look like I have a lot of "roads not taken." 

book with a zoo vet!

Here's the great part, though, about the choice I DID make. As a writer, I can "be" all of those things I didn't pick in real life! 

I can write a farm book, and have, several times! 

I can create a character who's a veterinarian (and have!) so that I can walk around in that skin for a while. 

Being a writer is a way to take ALL the roads.

And now, I must get back to traveling... thank you so much for reading!


Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Road Not Taken


The Road Not Taken


In 2005, I decided to leave journalism. Temporarily, I thought. I was about to have a baby and I wanted to spend time with him. And my father and I had long been discussing an idea for a book that we were going to co-write. So I said goodbye to my job as an editor for a Capitol Hill-based newspaper, and plunged into motherhood and book-writing. The baby, fortunately, had a good disposition and enjoyed sitting in his portable playpen turning pages in--and eating--his board books, so I was able to get work done.


But the book, instead of taking two years, took six. By the time it was published, in 2011, my son was finishing kindergarten. The economy had collapsed. And journalism had changed. Most of my friends had left for other, related fields—freelancing, public relations, consulting, book writing. Those that remained were doing the job of several people, working around the clock to accommodate the 24-7 internet-based news cycle. I had taken some time out—and during that time, my profession, where I had spent close to two decades, had crumbled. In what would have been mid-career, I had to reinvent myself professionally.


And I’m still doing that, a decade since that book came out. In a way, I still consider myself a journalist. In 2012 I started a blog where I interview authors. I’ve continued my freelance work, mostly editing reference books. But I’ve also been able to write three children’s books, and have various other manuscripts I’m hoping to get published. Do I miss the daily excitement of running around Capitol Hill, cranking out several stories a day? Sometimes. But would I still have the energy to do that all these years later? Probably not.


So here I sit, in this Covid-ravaged, politically damaged world, waiting. Hoping. And thinking, on occasion, of that journalistic road not taken.


--Deborah Kalb, author of The President and Me middle grade series for kids, and co-author of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021



Reviews are coming in for historical verse novel AFRICAN TOWN (Penguin, Jan. 4, 2022) by Irene Latham and Charles Waters:

"The voice of the characters is strong and... the journey itself is not to be missed"
School Library Connection, ⭐

"A thoughtful portrait of how trauma informs and inhibits identity making.”

Writers, you're invited to Irene Latham's new weekly vlog series: Tuesday 2-Minute Writing Tip! Episodes so far:

1 "We are Cups" - inspiration from a Ray Bradbury quote

2 "Call Me Ishmael" - on how we identify ourselves as writers, poets, artists

3 "It's Not About You" - on social media/self-promotion

We all need a little bit of inspiration... New subscribers welcome!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Reconnecting with Home (Holly Schindler)

Everybody thinks their dog is the best. Even if you're a lifelong dog owner, whatever dog you currently have is also the best.

This is Gus, my current dog:

Gus isn't exactly easy to take care of. He's kind of a dog for people at the advanced pet ownership level. I'm grateful I'd already been around animals my whole life when I got him. Gus has epilepsy, which involves pretty strict adherence to a med schedule and knowing how to handle seizures (ice packs, ocular compression, etc.)

But: The thing about every creature in your life is that for every hardship there is also a payoff in equal proportion. 

Gus is friendly. Almost to a fault. By far the friendliest dog I've ever had. He loves to talk to other dogs and people. He goes on walks not to sniff funky grass stinks but to find out who's outside. 

Because of Gus, I now know all of my neighbors on a first-name basis. And that's really saying something, considering I've lived in the same neighborhood my entire life. 

It's kind of a beautiful thing, reconnecting with the neighborhood. Being able to wave and have conversations with everyone on the block. 

If I'm not online as much these days, it's because Gus has me outside, talking to a neighbor. I'm under a tree somewhere or he's running circles around my legs while I help to string Christmas lights or he's tugging on his leash, hurrying me along as I bring someone that cliched cup of sugar. 

I'd say Don't worry, we'll be home soon--but then again, the whole neighborhood pretty much feels like home anymore.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Going Beyond Reconnecting...

By Charlotte Bennardo 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

The theme is reconnecting. It's a popular one around the holidays and the end of the year, and especially after the Covid pandemic. I've stayed connected with family and friends via Zoom and social media, so there was no 'reconnecting.' However, I've 'reconnected' with my love of learning- and am enrolled in graduate school, working on my Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. It's always been a dream of mine to get my MFA. With low and now no residency required, I can achieve this goal. I'm nearing the end of the first term, and if all goes well, I will graduate in July, 2023. There's a long road to go, but it seems that reconnecting to academic reading, doing research, writing papers, and discussing topics with the class is like riding the proverbial bike- once you learn, no matter how many years are in between, it's not hard to pick it back up. 

So don't just reconnect- realize a dream, right a wrong, take a bold step. Go for it.

When it's graduation day, I'll be walking that stage to accept my diploma and check off one item on my 'Dream, Accomplished' list.  

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Charlotte writes MG, YA, NA, and adult novels in sci fi, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal genres. She is the author of the middle grade Evolution Revolution trilogy, Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons. She co-authored the YA novels Blonde OPS, Sirenz, and Sirenz Back in Fashion. Currently she is working on several novels for both children and adults. She lives in NJ with her family, two demanding cats, and a crazy squirrel couple who just moved into her backyard oak tree.

Entering the Time Machine

I've never been to any of my high school reunions. Most of my friends from school wouldn't be present for various reasons or weren't in my graduating class. I'm not even sure where my best friend from high school is now because she seems to be off the grid, which is mysterious and cool in a way that likely would have greatly pleased the teen versions of ourselves.

Another reason I don't go to my reunions is because a lot of the best times in my youth happened in Mississippi instead of the town in Alabama where I went to school. Luckily, my cousin has been my best friend since I was 14, so I still have someone to share those memories with me. We've often wished we could go back in time and relive a few of those moments.

It finally dawned on me that we can...because, DUH! I'm a writer!

My current work in progress takes me back to old friends and great memories from the 80s (even though my book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental). I'm fortunate that I have my cousin and a couple of our other friends from back in the day to help fill in the gaps of things I've forgotten (but for the most part, my memories of decades ago are clearer than things that happened last week--isn't it funny how that works?). 

When COVID shut down schools, my husband set up a desk for me back in our bedroom so that I could close the door and get some quiet writing space while the kids were home. Now that schools are open again, I'm mostly back to my "office" (a corner of our kitchen), but I kept the other table set up. Now when I close the door to our room to work, I tell whichever of our kids happens to be around, "I'm entering the time machine. I'll see you when I get back to 2021." 

It may sound silly, but this has been great for my headspace as an author. When I close that door, I really do mentally put aside everything from now and fully immerse myself in the world of my book. 

I'm hoping that once my book is finished, it will be its own time machine, set for 1986. I've been hanging out in '86 off and on for nearly a year now, and it's a wonderful time to be alive. 

Ginger Rue's current book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Opposites Ignite Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Yesterday I pulled out a piece of writing I like, but which has always had something missing. Rereading, I realized the piece was a joyful one-tone, one-tone, one-tone. Good for meditation, but not for drama. A helpful insight, yes, but I didn't know what new tone to introduce. I wanted the piece to be joyful.

This morning I read a quote by Lionel Corbett: "In many mythologies . . . creation and manifestation begin with the separation of opposites such as light and dark, form and chaos."* He goes on to say these opposites create conflict. And tension, I might add. Tension is necessary for drama. Of course as a fiction writer, I know conflict is necessary. But my lightbulb moment for my one-toned piece was, hey, look for the opposite tone. And my imagination-storm was off and running.

I'm happy to report that incorporating the opposite raised a mediocre piece of writing to a new level. And the piece is still about joy, but it adds suffering, which gives the joy a deeper resonance.

So I offer this to all writers: When your work is stalled, look for the opposite image, the opposite idea. 

*Lionel Corbett, Psyche and the Sacred p 136 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Guest Post: Barbie Meets Dante, by John Espie

The following is a guest post by the author of The Tenth Floor, a delightful holiday story that can be enjoyed by adults and MG readers alike:

When my daughter turned 3 years old, we’d already established a nightly routine:  she’d don her PJ’s, the two of us would crawl into her bed, and we'd read three... or four... or five picture books before the yawns set in, and she’d drift off to sleep.  I’d cuddle with her, listening to her adorable little snore, and I’d know that life couldn’t get any better than this.

By her fourth birthday, I’d have chosen to gouge my eyeballs out rather than read another Barbie Princess story.  “Hey, I can do better than this,” became my mantra. 

I penned a handful of picture books, but the hitch in my giddyap was that I have exactly zero artistic ability.  My line drawings made Shel Silverstein look like Rembrandt.   

Nevertheless, the writing was still good, so I shared the stories with an arty family member who seemed ecstatic for the collaboration.  But the stories languished until he reluctantly admitted that it wasn’t going to happen.  I coerced another family member into agreeing to work with me, and the stories languished a bit longer, so I tried somebody else, and so on.   

Eventually, years’ worth of sand trickled through the hourglass, my daughter grew too old for picture books, and I moved on with my life. 

Except... every Christmastime, my wife would ask what I was doing with “that one story” about the girl and the broken elevator. 

Ah, that story!  I had to admit that it was a solid idea:  on Christmas eve, a little girl helps an elderly man climb from the lobby of a building up to its top floor.  As they rise from level to level, their adventure becomes more whimsical, and he teaches her life lessons while seeming to grow physically stronger until they near the roof and... well, I'll let you make your own predictions from there. 

For a decade, that dang story gnawed at my brain. 

Nowadays, my daughter is thirteen, a complete bookworm… and she suspects that I’m a writer.  That suspicion may not seem like such a big revelation to you, dear reader, but here’s the thing:  I write my fiction under a pseudonym, and I’m fanatical about keeping my superhero identity a secret.   

“What are you writing, Dad?” she asks. 

“Nothing,” I say, closing my laptop.

“You spend hours sitting at the sofa, typing on the computer,” she grumbles, and then she just… stares at me.

“I’m doing my taxes,” I say, but I think she may have learned about April 15th in middle school.

 She knows! 

So, last January, I hatched a plan:  I’d pen the story as a family-style novella—ala A Christmas Carol—and I’d make my little girl the main character.  Then, I’d give it to her as a present on December 25th, 2021, with a personalized inscription stating that the hardback in her hands was written by none other than her Daddy, and she’s the star. 


I gotta say, I’ve written for some tough editors, but none of them compare to the pressure of writing fiction for my daughter.  I’m up against Rick Riordan and J. K. Rowling, here!

What’s a dad to do?  Tricks!  LOTS of imagery!  Subtly reference Willy Wonka here.  Throw in a biblical allusion there.  And moralistically parallel the floors of the building to the levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno!  She’ll love that, right??? 

(Maybe some of that stuff was more for me than her, but still...) 

It’s now Thanksgiving, and I’ve got the best piece of writing that I’ve ever produced.  I even went so far as to commission original artwork for the cover, crafted around a photograph of none other than my very own daughter.

Wow!  I can’t wait for Christmas, hoping that this will be a gift that she’ll treasure forever.  The only thing that could make it cooler is if it connects with other folks who share it with their kids.  The thought that maybe other parents will be able to share some of the same joy in reading my daughter’s story to their children, as I’ll share in reading it with mine… well, that just pushes it over the top, right? 

Merry Christmas, everybody!


From November 22nd through November 27th, John Espie’s novelette The Tenth Floor is FREE at  For those who really fall in love with it, a high-quality paperback is available for purchase, while the hardback version is printed on premium paper and in color, making it an extra-special Christmas gift for friends and family.  

John Espie can be followed via his Amazon author’s page and on Goodreads at where his fiction releases are announced, he can be reached by private message, and he occasionally blogs.




Thursday, November 18, 2021

Interview with Jeff Lucas, Author of The Lost Ship


Welcome, Jeff! We’re so thrilled to have you at Smack Dab. Give us the elevator pitch for The Lost Ship.

Twelve-year-old Jack's father is a professional diver working on a way to talk underwater.  When he loses one of the devices overboard, an octopus slips away with it and learns to talk.  Jack ventures out to shoot a photo of the octopus for a school assignment and is flummoxed to find the octopus can talk.  He buys in and the two head off across the reef to find what Jack imagines to be “the greatest maritime discovery in history.”

What was the inspiration? Where’d the idea come from?

I skin- and scuba-dived in Hawaii as a twelve-year-old, where I accompanied natives spear-fishing for dinner.  I encountered octopuses on those dives (I hesitate to recount the particulars but the octopuses ended up on the table).  I later found out how smart they are and thought it would be fun to center a story around an octopus.  Redemption?  Possible.  

I love the friendship described between Jack and an octopus. In a way, I felt like it was a metaphor for wanting kids to befriend the natural world. Is that going too far—or part of what you wanted to convey?

Jack and Armstrong were buds but I hadn't thought of "friendship" in regard to kid lit.  A general friendship between Jack and, let's say, a stone fish, would have ended with a bad outcome.  Those who've been exposed to stone fish venom have to be prevented from cutting off their fingers to lessen the pain.)    

You do a little creative smooshing of geographical areas. Why was it important to you to get these elements in?

Your "smooshing of geographical areas" was a good catch.  I wanted as much interaction with the creatures and environments as possible so, after much thought, I decided to include a temperate area with kelp, into which divers get tangled and drown.  The episode was too good to pass up.  You might note the temperate area is consistent in its creatures:  blacksmiths, opaleyes, and wolf eels live within the kelp.  The wolf eel, with its ugly/cute face, might have been enough for me to include temperate seas.  I should add, despite their looks, wolves are curious and friendly. 

What was your writing process like?

As for my writing process, my knee jerk answer is: "it was a blast."  I laughed the whole way through.  That said, there was lots of research to be done, although I didn't mind because I was finding fun stuff to use.   If I found a good name, for example, "Venus's flower basket," I wanted to get it in some way--even though neither Jack nor Armstrong would interact with it.  Once I had all the stuff to include, it had to be ordered so that transitions were seamless.  This took me four years of arranging.  I noticed you're an "outliner."  I had a detailed--fish-by-fish--outline before I started writing.  Once I got to each episode, I discovered what I was going to say.  So much fun!

What was the publication process like? Biggest surprises?

Regarding publication, I found out that one can't just "press a button" and expect the book to be available.  My book designer, Kari Fera, disabused me of that. I loathe messing with the computer so I had lots of help getting the book to market.  It was a huge benefit to find Mr. Ratner and Ms. Stein.

I love the octopus facts you include on your site. What sparked your interest in this creature?

I have great affection for octopuses, which possess a large number of neurons (they're in the top ten) and must survive on their wits.  They have neither offensive nor defensive weapons; they're obligated to be tricky.  What's not to like?  Did you check out "blue coral," in the "creatures library?"  Or, "kelp?"  Or, the "stinker sponge?"  These photos--better than words-- demonstrate how good they are.

What’s one thing you hope kids take away from this read?

Mr. Ratner used the word "mission," which I like.  I've said (and believe) that the current kids will save the oceans; my idea has been to interest them, via demonstrating how many extraordinary things there are in the sea.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d give would-be writers?

As for my advice to writers:  "read widely and look up every word you don't know."  I've found that words I've read but never heard in conversation, sometimes pop out of my mouth.  Then, when my interlocutor asks me what they mean, I confess I have no idea (just kidding).  

And now, the giveaway:

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