Monday, August 22, 2016


   I signed up for author Stephanie Faris's blog tour to help promote the two first books in her new middle-grade Piper Morgan series, both of which were just released from Simon & Schuster a couple of weeks ago.


Aren't those great cover illustrations?  Piper looks like she's ready to charge (or get pushed!) right off the page!  What middle-grader would be able to resist buying the book to find out why Piper is riding an elephant or (evidently) running an office?  I'll give you a hint, since you're probably not a middle-schooler so this can't count as a spoiler:  Piper and her mom make up a two-member family.  They move around a lot, and Piper's mom keeps getting interesting new jobs in each new place.  But although Piper has to deal with the same difficulties all kids do when their families relocate often, she also gets a lot of opportunities to get in on the action in each new setting.

I e-met Stephanie when we both participated in the Blogging From A to Z blog tour over the last few Aprils.  This is Stephanie: 

And here's her bio:

     Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing. 
     Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of  30 DAYS OF NO GOSSIP and 25 ROSES. When she isn't crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of nonfiction online websites.  She lives in Nashville with her husband.

And here is my interview with her!

 1. Hi Stephanie! So, in real life you write articles about information technology, and in unreal life you write middle-grade fiction.  Is that how you manage your left brain/right brain split?


Good question! Maybe so. I do feel that the variety keeps things interesting. If I was just doing one or the other all day, every day, I don’t think I’d appreciate my “fun writing” as much. (Fun writing is the fiction stuff, in case you’re wondering!)


2. Piper Morgan is a little girl whose mom sounds like a free spirit, flitting from place to place and having adventures everywhere she goes.  I read on your blog one recent Mother’s Day that your own beloved mom sounded a lot like Piper’s.   How much of the Piper series is a love letter to your   mom, and how much of it is something else entirely?


I think being raised by a single mom definitely gave me a background to pull from as I wrote Piper’s story. We didn’t move around as much, but we did move a couple of times when I was younger. It was interesting that no matter where we lived, my mom made it “home.” I’ve realized, as I’ve gotten further into writing this, that this is really what the series is about. Piper is always longing for a place she can call home, but over time, she’ll come to realize that “home” has little to do with where a person lives.


3. Which comes first for you in writing a story: characters or plot?  Can you give a thumbnail sketch of your typical book-inventing process (if you have one)?   Ditto for your typical writing day (if you have one)?


I’m one of those “pantsers” you hear about, who flies by the seat of my pants when I’m writing. I wish I could be more of an outliner. However, once you’re published, your agent needs a partial to pitch your book to your editor. So I’ve developed a habit of writing three chapters, then writing the synopsis. That synopsis can then serve as an outline if they buy my book and I get to write the rest of it.


I wish I said I had a daily routine. I usually have every intention of writing 1,000 words or so in the morning, but I end up responding to emails and doing blog sorts of things until around lunchtime, when I go to the gym. When I get back, I realize I’m behind on my word count for the day and I write my butt off until bedtime! I always have writing assignments, and I try to do three to four a day, which means writing around 2,000 words a day, not including my book writing.


4.  Piper starts out with a bang by joining the circus!  Any hints about future exciting situations in which she might find herself?


She gets to work in the circus and a principal’s office in these first two books. In the third book, coming out in November, she works with puppies at a rescue shelter. The one that’s scheduled for next spring is set in a pool and spa shop and includes a TV commercial shoot. We’re still working on ideas for book number five, but I’m thinking it will be event-planner themed.

                                   *                       *                      *                     *

     If you'd like to find out more about Stephanie and her Piper Morgan series (and why wouldn't you?), you can check out any of the following links:







And make sure you enter Stephanie's Rafflecopter giveaway!!

The Olympics might be over, but for Piper Morgan, the fun is just beginning!





Sunday, August 7, 2016



     Here's a heads-up: on August 9th - in two days, to be exact - middle-grade author Stephanie Faris (via Simon and Schuster/Aladdin) is going to be releasing the first two books of her Piper Morgan series, PIPER MORGAN JOINS THE CIRCUS and PIPER MORGAN IN CHARGE.  Piper is eight years old, she and her mom do a lot of relocating, and according to the description on Stephanie's website, the series "follows the sassy Piper Morgan and the messes she makes as she tries to help her mom with a series of new jobs."  And from what I can tell, it looks like Mom isn't the only one getting new jobs in different places - Piper seems to always find a way to get in on the action.
     Stephanie is a creative and fun blogger who, despite sticking to a three-times-a-week schedule, somehow always manages to find something interesting to talk about in her posts, so I'm sure Piper and her adventures will be anything but boring.  Please make sure to check out the "sassy" Piper Morgan (if you order from Stephanie's website, you can even get an autographed copy!) , and please stop back here on August 22nd, when I'll be posting my interview with the author!

Thursday, August 4, 2016



     When starting to plan our summer vacation this year, my husband and I agreed that our actual destination was less important to us than that it be close to Washington, D.C.  My son and his girlfriend live there and although we knew they wouldn't be able to join us for a whole week, we hoped at least they'd be able to come for part of it.  My husband went to grad school in Virginia many moons ago and remembered that there was a big manmade lake called Lake Anna in the middle of the state, so that's where we began our VRBO search for a dog-friendly house to rent.
     Some of the Lake Anna house listings casually mentioned that there was a "cold" side of the lake and a "warm" side, but we didn't give this much thought.  We found and rented a house for the last week in July, paid up, and that was pretty much that.
      When we arrived, the friendly owner showed us around the property, including his little boat dock and the canoe stored in his shed which we were free to use.  That evening, my husband and I took the short walk down the road to what was advertised as a "sandy beach."  What we hadn't been told was that the beach was so miniaturized that perhaps five people could have shared it comfortably.  Overcrowding didn't seem to be a problem, however.  There was no one on the sand, or, as far as the eye could see, anywhere in the lake, even though the air temperature was in the mid-90s.  Boats, yes; swimmers, no.  I waded into the murky water up to my ankles and found that it was approximately the same temperature as the air.  Ah - we must be on the "warm" side!  So much for the prospect of refreshing swims!
     We took day trips over the next few days.  Charlottesville on Monday (about 97 degrees out), Richmond on Tuesday (roughly the same), and an extremely boring afternoon in Fredericksburg on Wednesday (a balmy 95) as we prepared to meet my son's 7 p.m. train.  Really no attempts to use the lake at any point during those days.
     I don't remember at what point I was in the house, idly leafing through local brochures, when I finally learned the delightful reason why the lake had a cold side and a warm side.  BECAUSE THERE IS A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ON LAKE ANNA, THAT'S WHY!!!  The cold water is pulled up to cool the centrifuges, and the hot water is discharged right back into the lake!  And we didn't even have to visit the friendly nearby Nuclear Information Center to find that out!  Welcome to Vacationland!!

     It wasn't until we got home that I googled Lake Anna and learned that, in fact, the lake only exists because of the power plant.  That's the purpose for which it was built - providing water to cool things off.  But once it was built, vacation communities sprang up everywhere along the lakeshore.  We saw one development in the process of being built that advertised lakefront homes "starting in the low 500 thousands."  This was in rural Virginia, mind you, where I would have to assume that similarly-sized non-lakefront homes probably cost less than half of that.
     So here is my question.  Yes, we were idiots for not learning more about Lake Anna before we went there, but it was only for a week.  Who in their right mind chooses to buy a vacation home on a lake whose water is circulated through a nuclear power facility???  Are these people so confident that there could never ever be, say, a highly toxic - okay, deadly - leak into the water?

     Had we done our homework before we left and learned the history of Lake Anna, I can assure you this would have been our reaction:

As opposed to: "Hey, we love it here! Beautiful scenery, and the power plant adds that little frisson of excitement so necessary to our adventuresome spirits!  Let's plunk down our life savings and build our dream house right in this very spot!"
     Oh well.  To each his own, I suppose.  I will say that we had a pleasant land-based vacation week, and we came back rested, healthy and happy.  In fact, you might even say that we're... glowing.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


     Julie is not a chemically altered mouse or person.  (And if you're too young to get the FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON reference, I have no use for you.)  Julie is my crazy nomad writing friend, and this week she gave me an awesome idea for raising the stakes in the book I've been working on, and I'll be trying to implement said idea this coming week while I'm away on vacation (in Virginia, because God knows it isn't going to be hot enough here in New Jersey!).  So this post is a big fat THANK YOU to Julie, whom I love and slightly fear and follow vicariously as she hopscotches her way around the planet.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


     Yes, I know that the real dog days arrive in August, but last weekend my husband and I had our own.  We went - with our dogs - to a B & B in Vermont.  And by the way, here's a link - my guest post from May on my friend Guilie Castillo's wonderful blog, which I don't think I ever remembered to re-post on my own blog - to explain why we once again have two dogs after our irreplaceable Murphy died in February.
     The B & B was The PawHouse Inn in West Rutland, and its hook is that it caters to "dogs and their owners."  To be honest, I'm not recommending the place.  Neither the bed nor the breakfast was anything to write home about.  But the dogs liked taking a road trip

and the inn did have a big fenced-in area for them to play

and they got to go offsite to the Vermont Country Store

and share the humans' bed, which they don't get to do at home.

     So, all in all, despite the rainy weather, it was a nice little getaway.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Let's see if I can copy my whole previous post, plus comments, so you can scroll to the bottom of the comments and see what I mean:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


 Yesterday I was browsing through my new SCBWI newsletter and Deborah Brodie's name caught my eye, as it always does.  But this time, the news was that she passed away at the end of June, after a long struggle with cancer.  She was only 67.
     I first met Deborah about 21 years ago.  My son Nathan was 2, I was working on a long rhyming picture book featuring him, and I was desperate to take a class I'd read about at the New School on writing for children.  I was a single parent, and my dear friend Sonia gave me the best birthday present of all time: an offer to watch Nathan for me each week, for the duration of the class session.
     The instructor was a woman with a jolly voice and twinkling eyes named Deborah Brodie, and the first thing I learned was to ditch my dreams of having "Nathan and the Urch," or just about any rhyming picture book, published.  "Dr. Seuss is dead," Deborah told us crisply.
     I learned a lot more than that from her, but the main thing I learned is that children's book publishing is an industry and that children's book writing is a profession; neither one existed only in some magical realm.  And I also learned of the existence of SCBWI, a haven for people who want to learn to write for children and get their work published.
     When the class ended, I didn't know how to thank Deborah for opening up a new world for me, so I brought her a rose.  A few days later, I got a thank-you note at home from her.
     I followed Deborah over the years.  After over 20 years as an editor with Viking Children's Books,  most of that time as executive editor, she left in 2001 to co-found Roaring Brook Press.  In 2007 she left there to become a freelance editor, writing instructor, and "book doctor."  All along, she did her teaching on the side.
     When I read that "book doctor" announcement in an SCBWI publication, I contacted her and ended up sending her a manuscript for doctoring.  She did a very thorough and enormously helpful job, and after that we occasionally stayed in touch by email.  Yesterday, after reading her death announcement, I went back and saw that, as I'd thought, I still had a saved email from her, sent in late 2009, responding to an email I'd sent her about her new website and saying, "I'm still hoping to see your name in my 'good news' column one of these days!"
     I've been reading Deborah's obituaries.  I don't know whether anyone can count how many new authors she's discovered, how many new careers she's launched, or how many still unpublished writers there are like me that she just kindly and graciously helped to move forward.  I do know that she was a beloved figure to many, both inside and outside the publishing and writing worlds.  I read this today, from her son: when Deborah learned she did not have long to live, she said, "Why me?"  But, unlike other people who ask that question, she went on to ask, "Why have I been so blessed, with such wonderful children, grandchildren, and my life?"
     Today is Yom Kippur, a day of remembrance, and along with other people I have lost in my life, I remember Deborah.  But, of course, she was only human, and although she knew a lot, she wasn't always right.  Dr. Seuss isn't really dead.  And neither is she.


  1. Sweet! That's all a person can hope for in life - To make a difference.


    1. Well said. Thanks, Genevieve!

  2. Deborah, that was beautifully written, and if you know how to contact any of her family or friends, I think you should send them the link to this page.

    I didn't know her at all, but after reading this, I feel like I know "the essence" of her and it seems she was a wonderful person.
  3. Thank you, Donna. I appreciate your thoughts. I don't know how to contact her family or friends, but I'm sure they've received a lot of other tributes to her. She was a special person.
  4. On Monday, exactly 4 years after Deborah Brodie died (6.27.12) I did a Google search to see what came up when I typed in her name. This post appeared, as well as the exchange above.

    I'm Deborah's daughter, Rachel and I hadn't seen this before and while you were right, we did receive a lot of other tributes, I was particularly moved, delighted and grateful to read this one. Your anecdote about Dr. Seuss is classic Deborah Brodie, and so was her email rooting you on....

    Thank you so much for publicly sharing your memories both because your post is a beautiful addition to her legacy and, more personally, because it meant that I could stumble across it so many years later and feel the rare pleasure of having a new and as-yet-unheard Deborah story to share with the rest of my family.

    Thank you!


    1. Rachel, I'm so grateful that you found this post and were thoughtful enough to respond to it. Like mother, like daughter, apparently. Deborah made a lasting impact on many people, and she will always hold a place in my heart. Very best wishes to you and your family.


Sunday, June 26, 2016


     I guess I understood the basics of Brexit.  It's just that I, along with the oddsmakers, never thought it would happen.  But when it did happen, I just couldn't understand what would lead anyone to vote for Britain's exit from the European Union.  I couldn't understand it, that is, until I woke up at about 5:00 this morning and realized that the reason I was sleeping so badly was that I had managed once again to infect myself with poison ivy.
     It's become something of a summer tradition for me.  Most of the time I leave whatever landscaping gets down around my house (and it's not much) to my husband.  But one day toward the beginning of each summer, some sort of hormone is released within me and I start ripping things down.  Ivy, dead wood, creepers, vines... you get the picture.  Now, I know from experience that poison ivy - or poison oak, or poison sumac, or some other poisonous plant - lurks somewhere in my yard, and that in order to sensibly protect myself before I start on my ripping frenzy, I should put on a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants, and gardening gloves.  But here's the thing: I don't want to dress sensibly.  It's hot out, and I feel like wearing my T-shirt and shorts, and besides, NOBODY IS THE BOSS OF ME.  So every year, I go out there and do what I am apparently programmed to do: convince myself that I won't go anywhere near the Poison Whatever, and that there is absolutely no risk involved, and that I will be just fine.  And then I wake up one morning and I'm astonished to find that my entire body is a mass of rashes.
     But this time I feel like I learned something.  Not about avoiding poison ivy in the future - don't be silly! - but about what it must have felt like for the British people who voted for Brexit.  It must have felt like: HA.  YOU (E.U.) ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.  I can act in ways that are directly contrary to my own interests, and no one can stop me!  Hey look, I can make the British pound reach its lowest value of the past 30 years!  I can drive global markets into turmoil and strike terror into the hearts of investors around the world!  I am so damn powerful!  Whee!!!
     The difference is that when I choose to perversely attack my back yard in shorts and a T-shirt, the only one who ends up suffering is me.