Saturday, October 16, 2021

What Makes Librarians Smile?

 There are all kinds of librarians in this world. Research librarians, digital librarians, music, science, archival. For any kind of information out there, there's a librarian for that. There are probably all different kinds of things that make those librarians smile; a perfectly organized shelf, a beautifully crafted MARC record, weeding egregiously outdated tomes. Myself, I am a children's librarian, and what makes me smile the most is when kids love books. 

I want to tell you all about one of my favorite students. I'll call her Joy (not her real name) for the happiness she brings to this librarian's heart every Monday. Joy is in sixth grade this year. She started at my school in second grade, and I had her again for third and much of fourth grade. Then . . . . Covid happened, and her family opted to homeschool her and her twin sister (who is also a peach!) for all of fifth grade. She is back this year, and I am so glad I get to have one more year with these girls before they move on to middle school. 

The specific reason that Joy is such a delight, is that every week, after the lesson, she comes up to me and asks me for recommendations. And, with only a very rare exception, she reads every single book I push into her hands. I can't tell you how thrilling it is to a librarian to have a child consistently take your suggestions. By now, I know just the type of book she likes, although I do try to push her into other genres just a bit. I find myself pondering before her class comes in, 'which books will I recommend to Joy this week?' The only difficulty for me now, is that she has read so many books that it's hard to find things she hasn't read. More and more, I can only recommend my newest titles. After we wander around the library and I hand her books, we walk over to check them out, and she has a nice pile of about five or six. Usually, she is done with all of them by the next week.

I work with 400+ children every week. For the most part, it's fun, but it can be complicated, busy and stressful, and not every child is completely lovable, well-behaved or fun to be around. It's kids like Joy and her sister that make every bit of difficulty worth it.

For this elementary school librarian, smiles abound whenever those girls come into the library, and whenever a child truly loves a book.

Friday, October 15, 2021

My Kind of Smile!


Another MFA class begins, and once again I’m deep diving into story structures. I have to admit, this is my kind of smile. And, it so happens, I came across a new book that is my perfect cup of tea.

Considered “a master class in novel writing,” Story Engineering,  by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011), takes a deep dive into story architecture. As Brooks offers, “…in their execution, stories are every bit as engineering driven as they are artistic in nature.” In other words, the technicality (or criticality) of the story is as fundamental as the creative.

Exploring the ongoing debate of pantsing (otherwise called organic writing) vs. plotting, Brooks offers that both strategies serve the same function: to find the heart of the story, the one that begs to be told. Pantsing tends to take the scenic route, going through revision after revision (after revision) to eventually and hopefully find that essence of story. As such, pantsing tends to be inefficient, as the writer stumbles  through various drafts that too often miss the mark.  What if there was a way to identify the core elements before  you dive into the deep end?

 Brooks calls these elements the six core competencies. Concept. Character. Theme. Story Structure. Scene Execution. Voice.  These are the essential ingredients to a successful story.

Every creative cook understands that the “most delicious of ingredients require blending and cooking – stirring, whipping, baking, boiling, frying, and sometimes, marinating – before they qualify as edible…” It is the delicious sum of these ingredients that turns your story into a “literary feast.”

Story engineering is that recipe that brings these ingredients together in a cohesive , satisfying dish. It differs from formulaic writing in that the process of story engineering serves to bring clarity to your story, but you bring the art. A pinch of this, a dash of that, stirred not shaken, and you make the story your own.

Brooks’ detailed explorations into each of these competencies decode the abstract. He provides a practical model that gives writers a profound new understanding of story structure that is accessible, and doable. One of my favorite passages in his definition of story:

“A story has many moods. It has good days and bad days. It must be nurtured and cared for lest it deteriorate. And it has a personality and an essence that defines how it is perceived. Just like human brings.”

As Books explains, a body cannot function without a heart. So it is with stories. These certain competencies support  the heart of the story. To continue with the analogy of cooking, if an essential ingredient is missing, or soured, the resulting dish leaves behind a bad taste.

Brooks is quick to admit that a writer can have all the right ingredients, perfectly stirred, and it turns out bland. Or, to put it another way, it’s possible to assemble in perfect order that perfect body. But without that creative spark, there is no life. Think Frankenstein’s monster.

Now that we’re all hungry, I highly recommend this book. 

May you create the perfect feast!

 -- Bobbi Miller

The Powers asked for a bio. I'm never good at these things. Writer, middle grade fiction of various genres, featuring real kids with real emotions dealing with real world issues. Armed with an MA in Children's Literature (Simmons) and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (VCFA), I have worked with childhood heroes, including the indomitable Marion Zimmer Bradley (my first editor) and the genius that defines Gregory MacGuire, Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer (all advisors); was a contributing writer to Anita Silvey’s The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators; a contributing writer to American Dissidents: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives ..., Volume 1.( Kathlyn Gay, editor. Books include Big River’s Daughter (Historical Fantasy. Holiday House, April 2013) Recommended by the International Reading Association, the Historical Novel Society, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The Girls of Gettysburg (Historical Fiction. Holiday House, Fall 2014), a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014, an honor for the 2015 Thomas Jefferson Cup Overfloweth and an honor for the 2015 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. 'Nuf said.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

What makes me smile! by Jennifer Mitchell

 What makes me smile.

I would venture to guess that what makes me smile isn’t typical for most adults my age.  With that being said maybe that is why I ended up being a teacher, or maybe I am just a quirky adult.  Also, the beauty of being my age is that I can admit to the things that make me smile without feeling silly.  

I love anything Sesame Street; reading The Monster at the End of the book to my students always makes me smile.  It doesn’t matter what grade I teach, I always share that book with my students.  If I can read that book while wearing a Sesame Street shirt I know I have had a successful day!  Along those same lines when students make me a present themed to the things they know I like it puts a huge smile on my face.  

Along the same lines as enjoying Sesame Street with my students, I also like to incorporate anything Disney.  Last year, I introduced my students to High School Musical, something that always puts a smile on my face. When my kids were growing up we enjoyed the movies, the songs, and all things related to HSM.  After introducing my students to High School Musical last year we played the songs on Friday, and even started a running joke with one of the songs, “What time is it?”  On a trip to Disney I was able to get a High School Musical shirt and hat to wear to school, it put a smile on my face when the kids realized what I was wearing.

Coffee is another way to make me smile. The biggest smile is when someone brings me a surprise coffee though!  I love surprises and you can’t beat a good cup of coffee!

The funny thing about making someone smile is oftentimes it is a small gesture that makes a big impact.

I am a teacher in the Kansas City area :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Things That Inspire and Make Me Smile by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 In keeping with this month's theme of deadlines or things that make us smile, I am focusing on the latter. Since I am retired from full time employment, the deadlines I set are arbitrarily my own, and they are drawn in the sand. But as I look for new ideas for writing projects, I am inspired by so many things, often in unexpected ways. Ways that make me smile.

Here is a photo collection of some of those things:

There is so much in the world to smile about. Smiling is great exercise for the soul. I hope some of these photos made you smile! 

Darlene Beck Jacobson often walks through the world in awe of the many things she discovers. Smiling, and delighting in all sorts of odd and inspiring things.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Help Me Smile (and earn back $$$ in books) :)

by Jody Feldman

Once upon a time, when I had files and files of book manuscripts and was thisclose to getting a publisher’s YES! – after 350+ NO THANKS including a then-recent bruise from a particularly brutal rejection – I was walking by a school filled with the shouts and shrieks and other sounds that only a schoolyard can bring. And I almost started crying. Please, someone, give me a yes so I can go into these classrooms and talk to these kids. And then ...

It happened!
I celebrated books and reading with children across the country (and in certain parts of the world). And then...

IT happened.

But here’s what I hope will happen next. 

World cooperating, I am now booking in-person school visits for 2022... with this deal. If you’re one of the first 10 schools to sign on at my (non-inflated) rate*,  once I visit, you’ll receive a $200 bookstore credit back to use however you want. Yes, I am hoping to give away every penny of that $2,000.00. And if it happens, once again, it will make me...

*You can make it happen here
  (click *brochure* for the downloadable details)

Award-winning middle grade author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level, Jody Feldman, may be taking a brief dip to the other (older) side with a YA thriller coming out next summer, but she's already at work on another middle grade adventure.

Friday, October 8, 2021


This is the season for scaring ourselves. Many people -- including my husband -- love to binge horror movies. They seek the thrills of monster mayhem. Grotesque ghouls. Dastardly demons.

I don't like to watch those things. My demons will whisper to me any time of the year. But the awful things they tell me are not what scare me the most.

I'm terrified of nodding off to sleep in front of the TV. Being spoon fed bland mush. White bread. Weak tea. In other words, the thing that scares me most is BEING BORED.

I distinctly remember facing that fear during a trip many years ago. I had finished whatever book I had brought along to read. I was at a bus station -- preparing for the next leg of my journey. But I would have to travel sans novel! Horrors! That could not be. I had to select something from whatever was being sold by the magazines and papers at the station. There was a copy of Norman Mailer's MARILYN -- probably because of its racy cover. I snatched it up and somehow survived the rest of my trip.

Being bored has other dangerous implications for a writer. Sometimes when I am rereading what I have written the worst of all possible things happens. My mind wanders. Hmm. What's for lunch? Did I remember to make that dental appointment? Is that a squirrel scampering across the backyard? Yes, the worst has happened. My own story fails to interest me. I AM BORED. 

And if I'm bored, then pity the poor reader -- even if he happens to be my husband who vowed to love, honor, and be my beta reader. 

Fortunately whenever I make that discovery, I have learned that something has gone really wrong with my plot or my character -- or probably both. It's time to dig deeper. Raise the stakes. Add a subplot. Delete delete delete.  

I suppose that is the reason that we fear anything––to avert disaster. My fear of boredom has saved me many times in the past. I hope it will continue to do so.

JANE KELLEY is the author of many middle grade novels, including the ghost story THE GIRL BEHIND THE GLASS.  



Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Benefit of Little Bitty Deadlines by Irene Latham


I love deadlines, and I hate them. 

I need them, in the same way that I need to know the rollercoaster ride will end, after our cart goes backward through that last loop-de-loop. A deadline is a promise that life won't always be this full and intense; rest is coming.

Yet they are always always overwhelming. When I first make that red circle in my calendar, I don't know how I'm ever going to get there. I'm filled with self-doubt: what was I thinking, selling this book on proposal?! How can I deliver what I've promised? And what about that trip I've got planned? My son's graduation from college? Etc.

And that's when I start breaking it down. I go through my calendar and mark out the days I'll be out of town and the days I'll need for preparing for and celebrating my son's graduation. I mark out the school visit days, and the days with other commitments. I force myself to be 100% honest about which are "writing days" and which aren't.

I also block off the two weeks prior to the deadline for revising. 

Then I take my word count (or, if poems for a collection, I calculate the number of poems that need to be written) and divide that number by the number of days left. 

Maybe I need to write 1,000 words per writing day. Then I divide that number: 500 words before noon, 500 by bedtime. If I'm still overwhelmed, I break it down further and further, until it feels manageable.

And then I get after it! Some days I over-produce. Other days I may be a little shy. And that's okay.

Sometimes on a non-writing day,  I'm able to squeak in a few words. Bonus!! 

I try not to worry too much and trust things to balance out over the course of a week. I typically use Mondays as a check-in for myself, just to take stock and see how I'm feeling about my progress. If I need to adjust my grand plan, I do. If I need to adjust my micro-plan, I do.

What I've learned is to change my relationship with deadlines. They aren't a brick wall; they're bouncy, flexible. More like a trampoline. Yes, there's an ultimate structure, but when we move, they move, too. 


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.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Top Five Things That Make an Author Smile


Top Five Things That Make an Author Smile


I had never heard of World Smile Day until recently, but now I know that it takes place on October 1, and since it’s now October 2, I thought I’d list my top five things that make the author/writer in me smile.


5. That moment when my characters do something I hadn’t expected. My fingers are moving across the keyboard, but I’m not in control of what I’m typing. The characters are, because clearly they want a particular thing to happen. So I let them do what they want. Like when the kid who’s more likely to mock the chess club than join it shows up…at the chess club meeting. And he wants to learn to play. All of a sudden, I had a much better idea of what really was going on in his life.


4. Spotting one of my creations “in the wild.” For many years, one of my books, George Washington and the Magic Hat, could be found in the Washington Nationals team store, of all unlikely places. I did a book signing there years ago, because George the Racing President (a Nats mascot) is a minor character in the book, and whenever I’d go back, they’d have copies of it on a rack along with various baseball-related books. Alas, on my most recent visit to Nats Park, there were no books in the store, mine or anyone else’s!


3. Starting a new project. A lot of times, I have a hard time getting started. I procrastinate for weeks, or months. And when I actually sit down at the computer and start writing—even if it’s only a few paragraphs—I feel a huge sense of relief. Finishing a project feels good, too, of course!


2. Meeting kids on Zoom and talking with them about my books. Their questions are always thought-provoking and make me think about my characters, or about writing, or about time travel, in a whole new way. One of my favorite questions was about how I, as a middle-aged person, could write from the perspective of a kid. It really made me think!


1. Of course, the most important and worthwhile thing is meeting with kids (and other readers—teachers, librarians, parents, and more) in person. A whole roomful of people. I have an immunocompromised family member, so am being incredibly careful in these perilous Covid times, but I do hope one day to be able to experience in-person book events again!


--Deborah Kalb

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Ah... Childhood Memories....

 By Charlotte Bennardo

Photo by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels

Ya just can't escape them. No matter what any author tells you, we bring part of our childhood, even if subconsciously, to our writing. Looking back over my writing life, when I first began, I wrote about what I was most familiar with- my personal life. Who knew better than me what I experienced? It was easy to have characters react the way I would. Of course that leads to a limited world but as I matured and experienced more ups and downs, my writing depended less on my personal life and more on what I saw happening around me.

But... we are a product of our environment. Looking critically at my writing, I can see that some of my characters are a lot like me. In most of my novels, my characters are not angsty, 'if I don't get this, I'll die' type of characters. Maybe they seem a little distant and cool to some readers, but I'm not one for dramatics (although if you listen to my mother I was all about drama when I was 8). Even Jack, my gray squirrel main character in the Evolution Revolution trilogy, while he could be emotional over losing his woods and home like most of us would be, he wasn't over-emotional. I can throw a fit, but I don't pine. I get over whatever threatens me emotionally and forge ahead. In my teen years, I was never hung up on boys, dating, and popularity- that whole jr/sr high school vibe. (Good thing, because I wasn't popular.) Just once though, I left that chill demeanor out of Sharisse, the one main character I created in Blonde OPS. She was all about the clothes, the makeup, the popularity. It was fun to step outside of my literary and personal skin and be someone totally different. It was almost like living a different childhood through my character.

So while we use our our childhood memories in our writing, sometimes it's nice to step completely away from those memories and imagine something different.

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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Childhood Memories, Tainted by Technology

One of the reasons I love reading is because I feel a strong need to know how stories end. I don't like loose ends, so I keep turning the pages.

When my parents were the age I am now, they might mention something that had happened in their childhood or teen years. They'd tell some fun story about an adventure with, say, Jim, and then end the story with, "Wonder whatever happened to ol' Jim?" And that was, truly, the end.

"Wonder whatever happened to..." is rarely a valid question these days. If you want to know what became of ol' Jim, you can get online and within five minutes, you can most likely see his most recent photo, find out about his entire family, learn his every political opinion, and get a map directly to his house, along with a photo of said house. 

As a person who loves to know how stories end, this should be fantastic. But as a writer, I find it kind of sad. No one gets to live forever in our memory frozen in time, unless said person lives off the grid or we don't bother to look that person up. 

It's better for me not to look up people I used to know when I was younger. If I need to write a character who's a jerk, I need that memory of middle school jerks I knew. But if I look up a kid I thought was a jerk, I might find that he/she has grown into a well-adjusted, wonderful human being. Certainly, I hope we all have matured a great deal since I was pretty much a moron myself back in the day. But if I find out that the kid who beat up the scrawny kid is now a foster dad who takes in hard-to-place, needy children, how can that not color the character description I might have drawn from my memory of him? 

My own children love stories I've told them about a friend from middle school named Andy. Andy used to make up silly songs and sing them during our social studies class. He had zero qualms about being thought goofy or weird, and he let his creativity run wild. I can still sing the words to some of his hilarious songs, and so can my children. I actually tried to look up Andy on Facebook so I could tell him he was a big hit at our house, but I can find no sign of him. In a way, that's too bad, but in another way, I love the fact that Andy, in my mind, will never be older than 13. He will always be the goofy, awesome kid who made everybody laugh. 

I haven't used Andy as a basis for a character...yet. But if I ever wanted to, the memory I'd draw from would remain untainted.

Ginger Rue's latest 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.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Childhood Memory in The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky (Holly Schindler)

 I rarely ever dropkick anything from my real life into my work.

Once I started doing classroom visits for The Junction, though, I kept getting a line of questions that were really surprising to me:

They were all questions about Victoria, Auggie's nemesis:


Why was Victoria so mean? 

Why did you make Victoria the way she is?

Why did you include Victoria?

In the book, Victoria is the main roadblock in Auggie's path toward renovating her house and proving to everyone in the town of Willow Grove that she's every bit as worthy as anyone who lives on the fancier side. But I needed Victoria to seem awful. Really horrible. On a 5th-grade level. So I had Victoria do the worst thing you could maybe ever do to an eleven-year-old girl:

 She steals Auggie's best friend.

Have I been there? Of course. I've also been in that scenario where some newcomer becomes part of an already-established best friendship...only to have two new people break away, and leave one of the original best friends out in the cold. I know what that feels like. We've all been there. The situation's so common, I really didn't think much of having included it in the storyline...

Until those questions started popping up.

Those kids loved hearing that I'd been there. To some of them, that friendship storyline was one of the very most important storylines in the book. 

I guess, the thing is, it's the most important thing we can ever tell a reader, no matter what their age is: I get it. I've been there. I know exactly what it's like to be in your shoes.


Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed author of books for readers of all ages. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, has recently re-released. A corresponding activity book is also now available.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Riding the Bereavement Train—Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun.

Did you know the Five Stages of Grief theory is considered outdated? I didn’t. Not until I looked it up, after death once more barged into my life.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the Five Stages of Grief theory—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—when she researched patients with terminal illnesses. Turns out that is a different kind of grief from bereavement after someone dies.

But I’m supposed to be writing about imagination, right? (grief brain fog, I guess.) Bereavement—wow what a solid, strong word. Say it out loud. Do you hear that heavy, lingering stress on the syllable “reave?” But the word is seldom used anymore. Why not? The word is from Middle English bireven, Old English bereafian, "to deprive of, take away by violence, seize, rob, plunder." That is powerful.

I propose to you that this is exactly how we feel like when someone we love dies. It’s that echoing, bottomless howl that they’ve been ripped away from us. I propose to you that the word “grief” is a gentler word. Say it out loud. Hear how fast the “f” consonant terminates? No lingering there. I propose to you that we don’t take grief seriously in our culture because we can’t tolerate the raw force of bereavement.

I had read before that the Five Stages of Grief don’t proceed in order, but are mixed up. However, that idea of stages implies a rational scaffolding to the wilderness of bereavement. I propose to you that we don’t want to imagine bereavement. It’s too strong. Others turn away from our bereavement because they can’t bear its power. Can’t bear that this might also happen to them (again). I know I’ve done this with my own friends and family.

The first week after a death, people call, send flowers, sympathy cards, and texts. One or two friends might visit. A few weeks after that, people make tepid inquiries—how are you doing? All the while they are hoping you have hopped off the Bereavement Train because it is unbearable. And they can’t fix it. They don’t know what to do. Maybe it would help to talk about something else. A month later, if you are still riding the Bereavement Train, they imply: Get over it. You should be moving on with your life.

I have failed to bear witness to the bereavement of others too many times in my life. But in this most recent death, when a beloved died in agony in my arms, all I could do was hold them, whisper loving words, and bear witness to their suffering and pain. I didn’t think I had that in me—the strength to contain my own horror, fear, and grief so I could bear loving witness. There was nothing else I could do. It was all I could do, the only comfort I could give. And it turns out that “all I could do” was exactly what was needed. Simply to bear loving witness. 

Bear it. Stand it. Hold it.

The next time my friends or family have a loved one torn violently away from them, I hope I’ll be strong enough to bear full loving witness. It is enough. It is all. In the end, it is everything.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

My (Literary) Cinderella Story (Guest Post by Jessica Vitalis, Author of The Wolf's Curse)

As an unpublished author, I spent years dreaming of my first book deal. I imagined my agent would call––no, my agent would show up on my doorstep, a bouquet of flowers and a publishing contract in hand. Celebratory music would play, crowds would cheer, the champagne would flow . . . okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly how I pictured my first book deal going down. Still, I’d always been a decent writer––papers came easily to me in school, and I’d won writing contests, scholarships, and even published an essay in a writing instructor’s textbook. As embarrassing as it is to admit now, I fully expected to write a book, land an agent, and get published right out of the gate.

Although my first book generated a fair amount of agent interest, I didn’t receive any offers of representation, and one agent not-so-gently pointed out my total and complete lack of fiction writing skills. All of the classes I took in college were non-fiction; I had no idea how to write scenes, much less an entire book with a fully developed theme and character arcs.

Undaunted, I set out to write book two. The years passed; between changing diapers and scheduling playdates, I studied craft, read as much middle grade fiction as I could get my hands on, immersed myself in the literary community, and continued writing. By the time I finished book three, my skills were greatly improved. Indeed, I landed a literary agent. Finally! It was time for my publishing dreams to come true!

Book three went out on submission. It received a revision request, which I threw myself into. And then the editor passed. And so did all of the editors after that. My agent and I finally agreed that it was time to work on something new. I wrote book four, set that idea aside, and wrote book five. While that went out on submission, I drafted book six. When the passes for book five started to come in, my agent and I reluctantly agreed that it was time for a fresh start.

Although the parting was amicable, it was still scary. After thirteen years of writing, I had to face the fact that I might never land another agent. But I wasn’t ready to give up. As I set about preparing a query letter and testing the water with a few agents, I saw a notification from a fellow mentor in Pitch Wars, a program I’d been involved with for several years.

This notification wasn’t from any old mentor: it was from Erin Entrada Kelly. The Erin Entrada Kelly (of Newbery fame). She was teaching a class and wanted opening pages to critique with her students; in exchange for sharing our work, she’d pass along all of their feedback plus her own. I jumped at the chance and sent off my opening.

A few weeks passed. Late on Saturday night, I got a message from Erin: I’m obsessed with this story!

I wrote her back, letting her know how very much her enthusiasm meant to me as I entered the querying trenches. And then I sat back and waited to receive her feedback, which I figured would come in sometime over the next week.

The very next day I received another message from Erin. She didn’t have any feedback and had instead used my opening as an example of writing well done; she asked if I’d be willing to send her my full manuscript with an eye toward passing it on to her agent––the brilliant Sara Crowe.

Needless to say, I sent off the full so fast my laptop nearly started on fire. But I’d been in the business for more than a decade and I knew better than to get my hopes up; the odds of getting an offer from Sara were about the same as stuffing my foot into a glass slipper and going on to marry a prince.

The next morning, I received another message from Erin: Sara loved my story and wanted to set up a call! 

Feeling just a little bit like Cinderella, I did a light round of revisions and went out on submission. But having been in the trenches several times before (and with Covid shutting down the world), I still expected the wait to be long and painful. Two weeks later, Sara emailed me that an editor was interested in my book and wanted to know what else I was working on.

A week after that, another email arrived. I’d received an offer! For not just one, but two books! From a dream publisher! Sara did a quick round of negotiations for a pre-empt and by the next day, I’d accepted a deal from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. 

My publishing journey might not have unfolded like I expected, but thanks to a whole lot of hard work and a little bit of help from my very own literary godmother, my first novel will hit shelves on September 21st.




Find Jessica at her author site.  

Snag a copy of The Wolf's Curse.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tying the Strings Together: Childhood to Adult Writer

As a writer, I often spend a small (okay, large) amount of time staring at a blank page, waiting to see what strings of narrative I’ll next pull out of thin air, or, more likely, from my own depths. One of those depths is early childhood. 

Childhood was both an idyllic and challenging time for me. I lived with my parents and sister and many cats and dogs and varying farm animals on more than 120 wooded Wisconsin acres. In summer, I hardly ever wore shoes or came into the house unless I (or the dog) was hungry. Winters were spent making snow forts and watching my sister ice skate on the frozen over ponds. Fall was magical, with its colors of crimson and gold and rust. I was content in my isolated world.

School, however, was breathtakingly difficult for me. I was painfully shy, awkward and reserved. My sister was outgoing and charismatic. If not for her holding my hand to my first few days of elementary school, I think I would have wandered out into traffic. 

Speaking in front of everyone was nearly impossible. I refused to eat or drink anything, and I often simply would not perform my assignments. My kindergarten teacher corrected my method of holding a pencil and demonstrated that which I was to change to. I refused, and to this day, hold a pencil wrong (boy, did I show her). It was hard to make friends and I found it easier to stick to myself. It wasn’t until upper elementary I started to find my footing and most importantly, my voice. I lacked confidence, but felt stronger as I was introduced more and more to the arts of drawing, painting and writing. I also met some very influential teachers that helped me gain confidence to pursue those arts. 

I still have a hard time speaking and eating in front of people. It's hard to share my writing with others, whether an email or a short story or a blog or a book. There are threads of me that still go deep into those childhood roots. The important thing is that I managed to live to tell the tale. I can look back now and empathize with childhood me. Those experiences - from a bully on the playground, to snubbing cookies, and making my first best friend and find the courage to rent library books on my own - have all shaped me and also my writing. 

I hope in my middle grade writing, its young readers can see the awkwardness of finding your way growing up. Making mistakes, but fixing them as best one can, walking into unknown situations, taking risks writing stories or making art. I think somewhere inside, we are all still at least a fragment of our childhood selves. There’s no better well than one’s own to connect with readers. 

Happy Reading! 
AM Bostwick