Saturday, December 22, 2012


     Today I lost my beloved curmudgeon of a father-in-law, Harold Newton Barr.  He was as honest and decent a man as I have ever been fortunate enough to know.

He didn't make it to his 92nd birthday next March, but he did make it to his 64th wedding anniversary on Dec. 19th. My son was driving back home from D.C. that day so he stopped to have lunch with his grandparents in Baltimore and made them very happy.
     Hal grew up in Brooklyn with his parents and older brother. He served in World War II, then attended Alfred University and studied ceramics engineering.  Back home after graduating, he met Barbara Weiner at a skating rink, and they married in 1948 and moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where Barbara taught school and Hal worked on the secret government research project.  They lived briefly in Chicago, where Alan was born; then in New Jersey, where Rick was born; then, by 1957 or so, settled in Baltimore, where Fred was born and where they stayed to this day.  They worked, raised their boys, and developed a network of close friends with whom they took vacations and celebrated holidays.  When the boys were in their late teens, Hal and Barbara began leaving them home and traveling internationally, and they didn't stop visiting other countries until they were in their 80's.
     Hal and Barbara traveled with my family a lot too, within the U.S.  We shared trips to Florida, Maine, West Virginia, Lake Tahoe, and Oregon,  as well as many other places.  Hal was a wonderful photographer, and preserved a lot of our family adventures on film.  I think many of my kids' best childhood memories stem from those trips.  Hal loved gadgets of all kinds, and in his later years, when he couldn't get out much, he got great pleasure from the ipad his kids and grandkids gave him.

     Hal collapsed suddenly this morning at home and stopped breathing.  No lengthy suffering, no dreaded move to a nursing home, no loss of mental acuity.  He's been a huge part of my life for the past 20 years, and now so much has changed.  My husband, the most devoted son I have ever seen, has lost his dad.  My kids have lost their grandpa - and, make no mistake, he was Nate's grandpa, not his step-grandpa, right from Day One. 

And I've lost one of my best champions.  As cranky and temperamental as Hal could be, he never left any doubt as to how much he loved all of us.  I hope we all did the same for him.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Something to Celebrate

     It's December 19th, my one-year blogiversary!  Time to stop and reflect on what this blog has meant to me over the past year.  More than anything, it has given me a home for my thoughts - a home that others can visit whenever it suits them to.  It has led me to new friends whom I have never met in person but still feel that I know so well.  It has taught me that all writers start from the same place.  Some are younger when they start, some older; some achieve success early, some never achieve it at all; but we're all born with a little person inside, someone different from our everyday selves, who very soon starts screaming to be let out, to be heard.  This blog has been my place to let my inner little-person out to yell and bluster and jump up and down and say some things that I believe needed to be said.  Many times over the past year, this blog has made it possible for me to keep on with my writing without sinking into months-long periods of despair over the pointlessness of my efforts.  And, too, this blog has brought me out of myself, given me the courage to reach out and contact authors I admire and ask them for interviews.  Not once have I gotten no for an answer.  I have gotten encouragement and honest, thoughtful responses to my questions.
     This blog has given me a place to grow and change.  In other words: a place to live.  Thank you, readers, official followers, unofficial followers, interviewees, comment-leavers, fellow writers, and everyone else who has helped me get to this point, thrilled to be starting my second year here.  You are all awesomely awesome, and I am awesomely grateful.  Please stick with me!  I have a feeling that the best is yet to come!  Happy winter solstice holidays, and happy New Year.  May it bring peace and love to where they're most needed.
     (Can you open this picture? If you can't: in honor of Nelson Mandela and whatever time he may still have with us, these are the South African doves of peace, and the logo reads: "Peace Is In Our Hands.")

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GOD, GUTS & GUNS - revisited

I was jusr reminded today of a post of mine from this past July, and I thought it was worth reposting:  Thanks for listening.

Monday, December 10, 2012


     My mom turned 90 on December 3d. I threw a party for her yesterday. Here's what she and I looked like:

Go ahead, say it. We look old. She perhaps slightly more so than me, but neither of us exactly in our prime. And, in fact, a close-up photo of the back of my head would have revealed that I was wearing my newly-acquired hearing aids. How's that for decrepitude? On Saturday I will turn 57. And yet, when I type that number, it feels like I'm lying. Whenever I read in a newspaper article that the subject is 57, my immediate reaction is: "Wow. Old." I have to stop and remind myself: Yo. That's you, honey.
     Here's the thing: there are so many of me inside my head. The little girl who believed that witches resided inside the toilet and emerged when someone flushed, so in order to defend myself I would wash my hands, open the bathroom door, stand poised like a sprinter on the starter's block, then flush at hyperspeed and run like hell.  The 8-year-old who dreamt at night of marrying the 19-year-old Paul McCartney.  The tween who attended the Zionist summer camp where we sang the Israeli national anthem at line-up each morning.  The high-schooler who tied my skate laces together over my shoulder to take the subway to the rink at Rockefeller Center.  The incredibly sheltered college student who developed a crush on my classmate, Domingo Nieves, eight years older than me and back from serving as a medic in Vietnam.
     We're all in here, all the people I've been. The young lawyer who spent her Saturday nights sitting in the back of comedy clubs, chatting with the other wives and girlfriends of the comics.  The me who used to act in community theater.  The me who worked as a stringer for my local paper.  The me who was a single mother of a two-year-old son, spending weekends touring all the local firehouses so he could sit in the cabs of the trucks and wear the hats that swallowed up his head and the yellow coats that came down to his ankles.  The me who represented a client on appeal who had been sentenced to the death penalty.
     All of those me's and their moments on the stage are gone.  But still... I feel so sure that there are many more me's still to come, so much to look forward to, so many bitter and sweet experiences from which to learn.  So I don't feel old at all, really.  And maybe, if I'm very fortunate, I never will.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


     Great news from Kami Kinard, fabulous blogger, nerdy chick extraordinaire, and author of humorous middle-grade novel THE BOY PROJECT. Of course, we all know Kami from my posts about her, Parts I (the interview) and II (my musings), as a result of which we all ran out and bought, read, and loved TBP, right?  Of course right!  Well, Kami wants us all to know that she has just signed a contract for her second book, a companion to TBP.  Read all about it here!  And then let Kami know on her blog that you can't wait to read about the further adventures of Kara McAllister, her best friend Tabbi, and those confusing, exasperating creatures known as BOYS!  Say it with me now: NERDY CHICKS RULE!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012


     There are a number of reasons that I don't care much for Thanksgiving. One of them is that I have a genetic resistance to being told to do anything, and I resent being told that Thanksgiving is the day when I have to be grateful. I'm grateful for many things, on many days, because I choose to be, not because the calendar tells me that I have to. So, on that contrarian note, I think that my post this weekend should be about some things for which I am NOT grateful. Chalk it up to my effort to achieve balance in the universe.

1. I am not grateful that that, possibly fifteen years ago, I arrived in New York one day about an hour early to hear Arthur Miller speak about playwriting, and so I went into a coffee shop next door to kill some time, and there, sitting alone at a table and doing absolutely nothing other than drinking his cup of coffee, was ARTHUR MILLER HIMSELF, and I was so paralyzed by shyness/fear/confusion that I went and sat by myself at another table for the entire time, and missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him.
2. I am not grateful that, half an hour ago, I failed to win a KidLit Cares auction for a critique by Wendy Lamb of the first three chapters of a novel.
3. I am not grateful that the human race is well on its way to destroying its own environment and, for some reason, thinks that short-term financial gains are more important.
4. I am not grateful that Alan Turing, the genius who during World War II cracked the Germans' fiendishly difficult Enigma code, was later hounded by his own government into committing suicide at age 42 because of his homosexuality.
5. I am not grateful for the invention of chewing gum.
6. I am not grateful that my father died at a time when he and I were on bad terms, and that I never had the opportunity to try to reconcile with him.

     That's it for now. Please feel free to leave comments about things, large and small, for which you are ungrateful. Let me know I'm not the only one! And then I'll do a gratitude post in, maybe, July.

Monday, November 12, 2012


     What a bad, bad blogger I've been.  Between post-hurricane trauma and pre-election angst, I've been feeling like the world is spinning too fast for me and I can't catch my breath long enough to think.  But I'm better now, and there are a few things I'd like to share.
     First of all: If you're a member of the kidlit community, and if you want to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts but haven't yet gotten around to it, then proceed immediately to author Joanne Levy's website.  Author Kate Messner originated the idea of an online "talent auction" of wonderful prizes for kidlit authors, with all proceeds to benefit the Red Cross and its Hurricane Sandy efforts.  Kate officiated over Round One, and has (as of today) handed the reins over to Joanne Levy for Round Two.  If you don't see anything on the list that piques your interest, keep checking back.  New items are being added on a rolling basis.
     Second of all: I won the most awesome prize in Round One!  I am now in the position of donating to my daughter's 11th-grade Honors English class a 30-minute Skype session with none other than YA Goddess LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON!!!  I emailed the teacher about it today and she sounds almost as excited as I am.  Please at least look over the Round Two offerings and seriously consider bidding on one or more.  Donating to a good cause and getting a manuscript critique, phone chat with an editor, or one of the other fabulous offers to boost to your writing career -  hmm.  Sounds to me like a win-win.
     Third of all: about this presidential election.  To me, Obama's reelection ranks as far more significant than his election four years ago.  Four years ago, he ran on a message of hope and change.  And even though the degree of change he's been able to accomplish so far has been disappointing, we as a people haven't lost hope.   That takes my breath away.  Americans are constantly trying to replace the old with the new, like kids tiring of their new toys after 15 minutes and wanting to move on to bigger, shinier, trendier toys.  Barack Obama is no longer new.  We know what his goals are and how he'll seek to accomplish them.  We know that he's, above all, a pragmatist, a negotiator, a strategist.  We know that none of those qualities made it possible for him to alleviate partisan gridlock in our government, or to bring the country back to where it was economically before the whole world's economy went into freefall.  But we, the majority of us, are willing to stick it out with him, to give him another chance. We are willing to forego the illusion of immediate gratification in favor of the hope for a better reality. The American people are acting like adults.  And I have never been prouder to count myself as one of them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


     I'm posting this from the refuge of my brother-and-sister-in-law's house in Philadelphia, where I just took my first hot shower since Monday morning.  My daughter and I escaped our cold, dark NJ house and drove down here last night when I got home from work (husband stayed home with the dogs), and are hoping against hope that when we get back there tomorrow, our power (electricity, heat, hot water, all those little things we take for granted) will have been restored.  It felt sort of adventurous for the first day or so, heating water over a little propane camping stove, but then the weather started getting colder, and we started relying on our fireplace for heat, and sleeping in the living room, and by yesterday, the thrill was definitely gone.  And yet, we were among the lucky ones.  No major damage to house or property, no one injured.  Our neighbors' giant tree is down in our back yard, but we can live with that until such time as there are tree people who are no longer tied up attending to dire emergencies and can come haul it away. We are safe.
     And an added bonus: this week without the Internet has definitely cured me of my Twitter addiction, cold turkey!  But, now that I'm online, how could it hurt.....

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

     8:45 a.m. on Monday. Got my dogs out in the yard before the rain started. Just about everything that's usually outside our house has been moved into either the house or the garage.  We have flashlights, water, batteries, a kerosene camping stove, a cooler full of ice and food.  We'll be fine here.  I'm still worried about the hurricane, but mostly I'm worried for people who don't have the resources to prepare for it.
     Which is why I'm so much more worried about the election than about the storm.  There are so many people in this country who don't have the resources to withstand a Romney presidency, and some of them will be voting for Romney, because they believe that they themselves will always be the Us, and never the Them.  But they and their families are only one catastrophic illness or injury away from being the Them.  Listen!  Listen, you Red State Republicans, who think that the rich can keep on getting richer and more insular, and the poor can keep on getting poorer and more marginalized, and that there will never be  devastating consequences for every one of us.  Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls; IT TOLLS FOR THEE.
     For all his weaknesses, Obama understands that none of us is an island unto himself.  For all his veneer of humankindness, Romney does not understand this.  Poverty and suffering for the Them are not simply part of God's plan, any more than pregnancies resulting from rapes are.  This country cannot afford four years of letting Mitt Romney turn the Supreme Court into a corporate Board of Directors.  It cannot afford the repeal of the baby step toward equality represented by the Affordable Care Act.  It cannot afford the births of hundreds of thousands of unwanted children that would result from a repeal of the legalization of abortion.  Rich, poor, or among the vast numbers of the in-between, none of us can afford Mitt Romney.

Monday, October 22, 2012


     Yes, A.S. King Airline's "Ask the Passengers" flight is scheduled to launch tomorrow, and it's time to get on board.  This book has generated a lot of buzz in recent weeks, and it deserves all of it.  A.S. King was gracious enough to answer my interview questions about ATP last month, and here is the link.  But today she blogged about the book so much more eloquently than I ever could, so here is that link too.  Her message is deeply simple: love is love.  And I will quote Janis Joplin, who is the only person I ever heard sing "Get It While You Can," so to my mind, she owns that song, even if someone else wrote it.

     In this world - If you read the papers, darlin' -
     Everybody's fighting - oh! - with each other,
     And there's no one you can count on,
     Not even your own brother.
     So if anybody should come along
     Wants to give you his love and affection,
     I say: get it while you can. Get it while you can.
     Don't you turn your back on love.

     Astrid Jones in "Ask the Passengers," out of all the options available to her, chooses love, and I think you will find it impossible not to love her in return. I know I did.  Do yourself a favor and get to know her too.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Weekend Plans

Friday: Go to bed around 8ish

Saturday: Get up around 4ish. Tiptoe around getting dressed.
                Drive into NY and park car near the pier at W 44th Street.
                Drop gear at gear truck, fill water bottles, eat some breakfast, attend Avon Walk opening
                      ceremony while refusing to woohoo.
                Walk. Stop at rest stops along the way to pee a lot. Stop for lunch. Keep walking. Maybe    
                      talk to some other walkers. Maybe not. Look around. Do a lot of mental writing.
                26.2 miles later, arrive at Wellness Village. Collect gear from gear truck. Set up tent, if Boy/Girl
                    Scouts have not already done so for me. Set up sleeping bag.
                Take shower in shower truck.  AAAAAHHHHH
                Take yoga class if not too crowded.
                Eat dinner.
                Wrap self in about 40 layers of clothes, crawl into tent, fall asleep instantly.

Sunday:    Get up 6ish. Get dressed, disassemble tent, drop it and gear off at trucks.
                Eat breakfast.
                Start walking again, VERY slowly.
                13.1 miles later, return to yesterday's starting point.
                Probably do not wait around for closing ceremony. Get my t-shirt. Collect my gear. Walk
                       to parking lot, retrieve car. Drive home.

     If I sound less than excited, it's because this is my tenth year doing this, the routine doesn't change, and I'm just a teeny, tiny bit bored with it.  I'm fine with the six months of fundraising and training walks, but the Grand Event ...  I mean, when all is said and done, walking is just walking, you know?  I'm proud to have raised about $20,000 for breast cancer research and prevention over the past ten years.  I just think that I might be ready for a year off in 2013.
     Have a great weekend yourself. And if you don't have to, don't get up at 4:00.

Sunday, October 14, 2012



 My mom will be turning 90 on December 3rd.  (In case you're wondering about the photo: she's the one on the left.)  My husband and I have been talking about throwing her a small party to celebrate.  She's become such a mild, pleasant, more-or-less rational woman in her old age.  Growing up with her in her full crazy-woman mode, I would never have recognized her in her current incarnation.  She's been on my mind recently, and so has my dad.
     My father was such a silent man, felled early by bouts of severe depression.  He died a few months before he would have turned 60, but he just gave up a long time before that.  To me, for many years, he had been an absent presence.  I thought I'd share here a poem I wrote about him years ago, one Yom Kippur when I was trying to summon up his elusive memory.

Defiant as always, today I appeared you -
Dishonored your artistry; conjured you back,
Bringing to naught sixty years spent rehearsing
Your ultimate, masterful vanishing act.

But I wasn't prepared for this thunderous silence,
Nor for slow-motion closeup of you, all too real.
Without masking music - theatrical distance -
Without props or costumes, the tape could reveal
The point at which magic outstripped the magician,
Taking flirtation with absence as dare.
For the first time I witnessed your body dissolving,
Instantly pulverized by the violent air.

You were ground into dust, sifting down in the sunlight.
There was time just to capture your look of surprise
As illusion caught up to you - seized you in passing -
Dragged you to places beyond your surmise ...

Daddy, watching you through camera's eye,
I could not rush onstage to say goodbye.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


     It all started so innocently.  Perhaps three months ago, I was lamenting my lack of social media skills to Yvonne Ventresca, and she suggested that I try Twitter. "Come on," I think were her exact words.  "Just take one hit. You'll like it.  Everybody's doing it."  So I did.  I started very slowly, just following a few harmless sites.  NASA.  National Geographic.  It was fun.  Cool pictures.  "Where's the harm in this?," I asked myself.  Nowhere, as far as I could see.
     I don't remember when it was that I realized that I could follow actual people.  Actual writers, agents, editors.  I could learn about their daily lives: their home improvement projects, their children's bedtime rituals, their eating habits, their reading habits.  I could even, if I ever got up the nerve, tweet AT them.  But if I never got up the nerve, I could still pretend to myself that I knew them.  How weird.  How wonderful. Before I knew it, Twitter became my first stop every time I turned on my computer.  But I could still handle it, I told myself.  I could quit any time I wanted.
     But then.  Then I realized that there are Twitter sites that exist for the sole purpose of making snarky comments about politics.  And that, friends, is when I stopped being able to control my Twitter habit, and it began to control me.  I never thought I had an addictive personality.  Drugs, alcohol - meh.  But 24/7 access to snarky comments about politics?  I'll admit it, but only to you.  I'm hooked.  And I've even started tweeting my own s.c.a.p., in order to support my habit.
     I'm still functioning, more or less.  I hold down a responsible job at which I only allow myself to check Twitter once a day.  I pay my bills, buy my groceries, argue with my daughter - the essentials.  But there are times when I'm on Twitter when I know I should be doing other things - like, ahem, writing a BOOK - and I anxiously ask myself: where will it all end?
     Maybe it's too late for me, but it might not be for you.  If you've managed to resist Twitter so far, take my advice.  Don't start.  Think of me, and JUST SAY NO.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


     First: I never did hear back from Karin about the IF I LIE giveaway, so I'm afraid I can't get the book to her.  It wasn't easy for me to choose a runner-up, but I'm choosing Cheyanne.  Cheyanne, congrats!  Again, please email me your address at, and I'll get the book right out to you!
     Next: I spent the weekend, beginning early Friday morning, at a writer's retreat with three of my fellow critique group members.  We stayed at Michele's house on Cape Cod - vacation home for now, all too soon to become primary residence when Michele and her husband retire and leave New Jersey.  The weekend was wonderful.  We drove through torrential rains both ways, but it was well worth it.  Aside from grocery shopping and eating (we never did make it out to a restaurant, except en route) and one lovely walk on the beach (complete with seals poking their heads up out of the water to look at us!), we just wrote and critiqued.  What a luxury, what a blessing, to have a full day to set aside all other responsibilities and just focus on our writing.  Good company, lovely surroundings, and a full day to do what we love best.  It was a treasure of a weekend, the kind I wish for every writer.  I'm tired and inspired and rejuvenated, all at the same time.  Thanks, Michele and Julie and Alice!  I love you guys!

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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


     I posted that Karin won my book giveaway, and asked her to email me her address so that I could send her IF I LIE, but ...  silence.  Are you there, Karin?  If I don't hear back from you by this Saturday, I'll have to choose another contest entrant to send the book to.  But I would rather send it to you!  Don't be a stranger, Karin!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


     I want to thank everyone who participated in this contest and shared some of the noble actions they've seen other people take.  It wasn't easy to choose a winner, but I'm going to go with Karin, who wisely pointed out that heroism and honor are not the same thing.  They share similarities, in that both require courage and both are the opposite of taking the easy way out.  But an honorable act is one that arises from adherence to principle.  Here's Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening:"
                    The woods are lovely, dark and deep -
                    But I have promises to keep,
                    And miles to go before I sleep.
     Honor is about keeping promises - to ourselves, to another person, to a community, to God - even (or especially) when we think no one is looking.  In IF I LIE, Quinn keeps her promise to Carey even though it causes her great personal hardship, and even when Carey does not hold up his end of their bargain.  I appreciate all of your comments, but since I have to choose, I appreciate Karin's thoughtful discussion most of all.  So, Karin, if you would email me your address at,  I will send the book winging its way to you!  Congratulations!  And once again, thank you to everyone who stopped by and submitted a comment.  I'll do more giveaways in the future, I promise!  And thank you, Corinne Jackson, for posting about this contest and directing blog traffic my way. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


     I am trainable, despite all evidence to the contrary.  If I try a book giveaway featuring a book I didn't like, and I get no takers, I will not try it again.  I will, on the other hand, try a giveaway with a book I DID like, because that method succeeded last time. Trial and error, folks.  If an amoeba can do it, why can't I?
     I can't remember where I read about "If I Lie," a debut novel by Corrine Jackson, but I was intrigued enough to buy it. When I read the cover flap, however, my heart sank a little.  Let's see, girl with a Marine boyfriend, caught kissing another boy while Carey is posted overseas, accused by everyone in her miltary town of cheating, but she's not cheating, but explaining why she's not cheating would reqire revealing a secret she's promised her boyfriend she would keep...  Oy.  Is this really going to be the focal point of the book - this "mystery" even an amoeba could figure out before opening to Page One?
     But, fortunately, it's not.  The Big Reveal comes fairly early on, and then the book gets down to its real business, which is the subject of honor - some of it in the military sense, some of it not.  What is betrayal, what is honor, and can the same person be capable of both?  Take Quinn's mother, for example.  What is Quinn to make of her having left Quinn and her father years ago, without a second glance, to take up with Quinn's father's brother, of all people, but then to stick by Quinn's uncle through his long and awful battle with cancer?  And what about George, the cranky old man Quinn's gotten to know through her work with the Veterans History Project, who has imparted to her as much as he could of his vast knowledge of photography, but who also took it upon himself to invite Quinn's estranged mother to her birthday party?  And what about Quinn herself, who has fallen in love with Carey's best friend but can't tell him the reasons why they either can, or can't, be together?
     The giveaway contest will run from now through next Saturday, the 22nd, at midnight.  Here are the rules: leave a comment describing the most honorable thing you have ever seen a stranger - not a public figure - do.  That's it.  So, I guess, there's only one rule, if you want to get technical.  At the end of the contest, I'll choose my favorite comment, and I will send the poster of that comment my like-new, hardcover copy of "If I Lie."  So, come on!  Start it up! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


     Through working on my new middle-grade novel, I've been rediscovering the joy of writing. I suspect that's because, at heart, I'm really a smartass, obnoxious 14-year-old boy screaming to be unleashed on the world. I have to battle the urge to post, right here on this page, excerpts from my book-in-name-only. This is so, despite the fact that with this work in progress, I'm competely allowing my ADD to run the show, and so far the "book" exists only as a series of disjointed scenes thrown haphazardly onto the page.  So what? Ask me if I care. I love this embryonic book and it's making me happy, and I don't need your stinking rules.
     Okay, I'll just tell you the title, and no more, regardless of how much you beg. The book is called, "IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?" and it is a loving homage to class clowns everywhere.  All of us - and we know who we are - have had that question seared into our brains during our formative years, but only a few of us - and we know who we aren't - have fought back, and won.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


     Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's rival and admirer, wrote in his commentary to the First Folio edition of the plays that the late Shakespeare's genius lay not just in his brilliant inspirations, but just as much in his tenacious willingness to revise until he got it right:

Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same,
(And himself with it) that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,
For a good poet's made as well as born.
And such wert thou.

     Made as well as born.  Even him.

Friday, September 7, 2012


     As I've said before, I think A.S. King is one of the most challenging and rewarding authors for young adults currently writing.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just unflinching looks at real people with real problems.
In the words of her bio, she "is the author of the highly acclaimed EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, a 2012 ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and Andre Norton Award Nominee, and the Edgar Award nominated, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ.  She is also the author of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults DUST OF 100 DOGS and the upcoming ASK THE PASSENGERS (October 2012).  After a decade of living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives deep in the Pennsylvania woods with her husband and children."

     Here is our interview:


 *Minor Spoilers Included!* 

 1. Astrid sends her love skyward to anonymous airplane passengers out of desperation, but eventually she figures out that she has more in common with them than she’d ever realized. She’s pinned in place just as much as they are. None of Astrid’s questions that she floats out to the passengers ever get answered, but maybe it’s the questions themselves that matter, huh? What is it you’d want your readers to “ask the passengers?” 

 Yours are detailed questions, so I’m going to try and give detailed answers. (I love detailed questions. So, thank you.) I want to clarify something before we get started on this answer. Astrid isn’t really asking the passengers questions. It’s very important to note that Astrid is sending her love to the passengers. And not really out of desperation, either. My characters tend not to be desperate. Usually, they are practical people who are dealing with questions the way we all ask questions.

 So, the short answer is: I don’t want my readers to ask the passengers anything. But I do want my readers to see that giving love to random strangers is a good way to approach life. In the case of her loving people in her life who treat her poorly—turning the other cheek, if you will—this is another message of tolerance and love that I very much want to come through in the book.

 Astrid does pose questions to the passengers, but really she is asking herself the questions. So, yes, the questions do matter when it comes to those parts. But the sending of love matters more. I do love the idea of Astrid being pinned in place. This is true. For all of us. Except that we can choose to unpin ourselves. And so, Astrid, through her soul-searching will learn to unpin herself from the misconception that we all must be pinned.

 So the long answer is: I would like readers to ask the passengers (themselves) how they can unpin themselves from their beliefs. This doesn’t mean we have to do a 180 and become other people…but it does mean that maybe acceptance and tolerance and understanding would be a more attainable goal if only we asked ourselves more questions vs. knowing all the answers.

 2. I found it interesting that you chose to begin the book at a point when Astrid and Dee had already gotten past the baby steps of their relationship and Astrid had accepted the fact that she liked kissing another girl. Did you ever consider moving your starting point back a little, back to when Astrid hadn’t ever done anything more to explore her sexuality than wonder about it? 

 This is a very short answer. No. I think it’s shown quite clearly how this relationship came about and how she feels about it. The questioning wasn’t something she did before the relationship started. Only after. That’s mentioned several times in the narrative. Also, I find a lot of backstory upfront is a really marvelous way to bore readers.

 3. So. Frank Socrates. Astrid really has to look far, far beyond the inaptly-named Unity Valley to find a functional adult, let alone a mentor or a role model. Has it been your experience that small towns can really be as deadly as all that? Or is it adults in general that so routinely fail the teenagers around us? 

 I think you and I must see role models differently. ☺ Frank Socrates is not the only role model Astrid has. Not even at a stretch. Sure, she talks to him because of his role in her Humanities class, but in real life, she has a teacher, many friends and students and even her parents as role models. Sure, her mother is a horror show, but her mother also teaches her things like all mothers do. Even not-so-great ones. Her father is very supportive. He may be stoned all the time, but he’s still a very close ally to Astrid and it’s very helpful to her.

 I think Unity Valley is a perfect name for Unity Valley. The inhabitants there are all very happy living in the world they live in…as long as everything there fits into their idea of what Unity Valley represents. I didn’t think the town was “deadly.” I think it was small-minded and gossipy. I think any town that runs on that much gossip is a sometimes-scary place to be. Especially if you have a secret.

I think some adults fail teenagers. The biggest way, and my personal pet peeve, is the adult who thinks all teenagers are dramatic and despairing. They roll their eyes when the word teenager is even spoken. They think all teens are doing things with some urgent, hormonal, melodramatic emotion and forget that some teens have already lived through more than some adults have.

I think adults underestimate teens a lot. I think they are in protect mode long after teens have heard or seen the things that adults want to protect them from. I think there is a general disconnect, for sure. But not adults fit into this box. And not all teens do, either.

4. Astrid’s friends Kristina and Justin don’t fit into the boxes people put them in, but they’ve done a very credible job of pretending that they do, while secretly pursuing their own lives. Do you think it’s possible to choose to live a lie and yet still be relatively well-adjusted? Why or why not? 

 That’s a great question. I don’t know. If I look at my work over the last 20 years, most of my adult characters who are hiding or lying are pretty messed up. So I guess I think that if your inside knows the truth and your outside hasn’t quite come to terms with it, that can cause a lot of problems in a human being. That said, most of the people I know who have been through what Astrid (or Justin and Kristina) has been through were hiding it while they lived in their small towns and could only come out once they left. They are all very well-adjusted. Kristina and Justin do what they do to get by.

You bring an interesting phrase into this question, also. You say living a lie. In the book, Kristina tells Astrid that she was lying, when really she was questioning…and it was none of Kristina’s business until Astrid was ready to tell her. Questioning isn’t lying. Not fitting into a pre-defined box is not lying. It is what it is. And no one can label anyone else’s experience. In the case of being gay in a place where you will not be accepted, these people are not lying. They are enduring. This, to me, is a completely different thing.

But in general (not relating to sexuality-boxes at all, I mean) I think people who are averse to living in reality have a hard time. Sure, they can get through normal everyday tasks. No one at the grocery store cares whether you are living some decades-old lie about your childhood or something that once happened to you, etc. But I do think that those people will have a very hard time in any intimate relationships—both friendships and long-term romantic relationships. I think a keen sense of reality and a willingness to face it and live in that real world is always a plus.

5. Funny thing: according to your characters, they don’t like to be put into boxes, and according to your interviews, neither do you! What’s your earliest memory of someone trying to put you into a box, and how did that work out for all concerned? What techniques have you learned since then that help you to avoid being pigeonholed? 

 From the moment we are born we are boxed. Girl means something. (Pink?) Boy means something. (Blue?) I was mistaken as a boy for a lot of my childhood due to my pixie cut and comfortable and practical clothing. This actually still happens from time to time because I firmly believe that some people judge gender from the waist down. (I wear men’s jeans and boots, mostly.) But pigeonholing? Still happens. All the time. I mean, it’s just human nature to want to define things so that we can better grasp things based on past definitions we already have loaded into our cranial hard drives.

 My publishers have to market my books. So I am now called a “young adult author” and I am not one. I’m just an author. I write for all age groups. But this is what I am called. There isn’t anything we can do about it in this 24/7 news cycle world, I don’t think. The media is now built entirely on these boxes. So the best way I avoid being pigeonholed is…I don’t watch TV, I don’t read much media and I stay away from most filler-type-articles. It’s a little like watching the Olympics on mute. That way, I can enjoy the amazing talent of athletes and ignore all that chattering, boxing-people nonsense. So, I will always be pigeonholed, but if I avoid watching the pigeonholing, then I don’t really know about it.

Thanks very much for this interview! It was fun.

     Thank you a thousand times over, Amy!  For me, it was so much more
than just fun.  I continue to learn with each interview I do that awesome
authors can also be awesome people who are generous with their time
and advice and willing to pay back some of the help they got when they
were first starting out on this long road to a writer's life.  And from this
particular interview, I learned that even a huge fan and careful reader (me)
 can see things entirely differently than the writer (A.S. King) and fail to
understand much of what she's trying to get across.  The moral, I think, is
 that reading is an interactive process.  What the reader brings to the table -
her own life experiences, biases and expectations - will color what lessons
she derives from a book.  I've thought about it and decided that this is a
good thing.  It's all part of the magic and mystery of literature.
     A.S. KING, YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!  I hope you have a fabulous
book tour (details on her website)!
     And, fellow readers,  awesome pleasures await you if you follow her
blog and, who knows?  maybe even join her posse!
     Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Day

   So.  Yesterday, September 1, I was awake for 5 of the 24 hours, and during those five hours of consciousness, I knew exactly what it felt like to be 150 years old.  Call it flu, call it a virus, call it whatever you like; for me, the day never happened.  Is this what it feels like to cross the international date line in the forward direction?  How very strange.  Does this make me a day younger now?  It definitely did me a favor re: calorie consumption.  This morning I woke up returned to human form, and my first thought was:  I'M ALIVE!!!
     So I started my day grateful.  And I'll share something else I'm grateful about.  This week I've decided to put aside my heavy, heavy historical YA novel because, for right now, it's just too hard.  There will be a time when I'm ready to move forward with it, but now is not that time.  Now, I decided, is my time to have fun writing.  So: a humorous MG is the current plan, and my creative juices have been flowing, and I've been making myself laugh, which is always a good sign.

     Sometimes, when you hit a roadblock, a change of direction is exactly what's needed, don't you think?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ask the Passengers

     Yes, I hope to soon be able to post an interview with A.S. King, author of Everybody Sees the Ants (YALSA Top Ten Books for YA, Junior Library Guild selection, many starred reviews), Please Ignore Vera Dietz (Printz Honor Book 2011, Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens), and, most recently, Ask the Passengers, due out on October 23 and the subject of the interview.  Here's my review.
     The people of Unity Valley, Pennsylvania, like most people who populate our planet, think they know everything there is to know, at least about their community.  For example, they all know that Kristina and Justin, the most beautiful, popular couple in the senior class, are going to get married someday and have beautiful, popular children.  But Astrid Jones, Kristina's best friend, knows the truth: Kristina and Justin will never marry each other because they're both gay, and are serving (with great success) as each other's beards.
     Astrid, on the other hand, isn't gay.  Last year she had a boyfriend she was crazy about, until her mother started rumors that broke them up.  Well, Mom couldn't let it go on too long between her daughter and a fat boy, now could she?  What would people say?  Mom's answer to living under a microscope in Unity Valley is to get perfectly dressed, groomed, and made up each morning, and then never leave the house.  Dad's answer is to disappear into the garage each evening in a haze of pot smoke.  And Ellis, Astrid's younger sister, has an extremely demanding 24/7 job called Trying to Merge Into The Crowd.  All of which leaves Astrid on her own, except for the passengers in the airplanes that fly overhead.
     It's a real relationship that Astrid has with the passengers, although it's a bit one-sided.  Astrid lies on a picnic table in her back yard and sends love up to the people in the planes, because her love is not a popular commodity in her family, or anywhere in Unity Valley ( a place name which the reader soon learns to surround with air quotes).  And Astrid also directs  her questions to the passengers, because she has to ask someone, not because she expects them to answer.  How would the passengers know, for example, why Astrid's mother loves Ellis, but not Astrid?  How would they know where Astrid's life is headed?  And how could they possibly know why, if Astrid is straight, she's lately been deriving such intense pleasure from her kissing sessions with Dee, her female co-worker?
     The only thing Astrid knows is that everyone, including Dee, wants to put her into some kind of a box, to categorize her, to assign her a number.  She doesn't know what she wants, but she knows she doesn't want that, nor does she want to live a lie like Kristina and Justin.   So she doesn't have much choice but to set about learning who she is and where she belongs, no matter what it costs her.
     A.S. King gets her hands dirty.  She gets down into the trenches with her characters, down where she can't fake it or look away, because they can't.  I can see this book saving a life or two.  Please read my interview with her when it posts, and in the meantime, pre-order the book.  Then, in the two months until it arrives, read up on the Greek philosophers.

Friday, August 24, 2012


     A.S. King, one of my very favorite Y.A. authors, has generously agreed to do a short interview with me before her latest book, "Ask the Passengers," launches in October!  I'm working on the questions now.  Stay tuned to this channel!  And meanwhile, if you don't know who she is or what she's written to date, please look her up!  I promise you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Very Short Follow-Up

     OF COURSE Akin didn't withdraw from the Senate race!  To an unbridled and none-too-bright narcissist like him, it's not about his political party, or its reputation, or its chances of capturing a Democratic Senate seat, or maybe even the White House.  IT'S ALL ABOUT HIM!!!!  HE'S not a quitter!  HE doesn't bow to pressure!  HE messed up one little word, and now HE deserves forgiveness!  How many more ways can this man bring disgrace on himself and still fail to realize that he's doing so?  Unwittingly, he is a veritable poster child for why there need to be more women in public office.  Should this bozo and others of his ilk ever, ever, ever be in a position to make decisions about women's health issues?  Or, for that matter, about anything else?

Why Is Everyone Picking on Todd Akin?

     Geez.  The guy makes one little mistake, and BOOM!  His party abandons him.  Is that any way to act?  All he did was express a scientific fact: that rape cannot lead to pregnancy because women's bodies possess a mystical ability to "shut all that down" if they've been forcibly (a.k.a., "legitimately") raped.  Okay, most people throughout history who accepted that as scientific fact lived during, or prior to, the Middle Ages, but a guy's entitled to his opinion, isn't he?  Clearly, his scientific opinions are worthy or respect.  After all, he's served on the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (check out his bio if you don't believe me), so he's got to know SOMETHING, right?
     Stand by your man, GOP.  Don't let a little boo-boo like this derail this righteous crusader (who, by the way, receives an "A" rating from our friends at the NRA) from his holy quest for a Senate seat.  Claire McGaskill needs all the help she can get.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

So There I Was In Union Station...

     I was getting pretty antsy last Sunday about catching my 5:00 p.m. train back from D.C. (see most recent post), and as a result, my son humored me and got me to Union Station by 4:20.  And that was when I realized that in my hasty planning for this day trip, I hadn't given any thought to what I would do on the train for two-and-a-half hours.  I guess I  must have vaguely imagined that I would sleep, but when the time came, I knew I was much too wired for that. 
     Did you know that there is a Barnes & Noble in Union Station?  One that has a YA section?  Well, now we share that valuable piece of info.  I bought "I Am the Messenger," by Markus Zusak, and I read it all the way to Newark, and then after dinner I picked it up again and read until the end, because I needed to find out what would happen. 
     The protagonist, 19-year-old Ed Kennedy, is a quintessential loser.  He moved out of his mother's house into a shack because his mother can't speak a civil word to him, but unlike all his other siblings, he's never made it out of his dead-end town.  He drives a cab for a living, plays cards with his loser friends Ritchie, Marv and Audrey for recreation, and turns to his 17-year-old dog, Doorman, for affection.  Nothing ever changes for Ed, and it's hard to imagine that anything ever will. 
     But then one day, he sort of backs into stopping a bank robbery, which wins him his 15 minutes of local celebrity, and it's soon after that a mysterious playing card arrives in his mailbox.  Although, unlike his golden-boy younger brother, he never went the University route, Ed isn't stupid, and he figures out soon enough that every notation hand-written on the card represents a task that he must complete.  He resists at first, but eventually realizes that, for the first time he can remember, a force greater than himself is taking a hand in his life, and is not going to change its mind and walk away.  Ed accepts his fate and works his way through the tasks, even the most frightening one that he leaves for last, but as soon as he does, a second card arrives, via an outstandingly unpleasant delivery service...
     I think you should read this book.  And then read Zusak's other books, beginning with "The Book Thief," as I'm going to do.  And then continue with his latest, "Bridge of Clay," soon to be released by Knopf, and with whatever other books follow that one.  The one thing I can swear to you is that you will never, ever be bored.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Endings, Beginnings

     When I first found out my son was going to have to leave for law school as soon as we got back from vacation, I offered to go down to D.C. with him to help him move, but he said no.  My husband, knowing how much it would mean to me, asked him to reconsider, and so on Saturday on the way home from Vermont, I was invited to get up at 5:30 the next morning and make a day of it.
     Did I say yes?  I ask you - Who could say no to this face?

     Not me, that's who.   So I got to visit the new apartment, meet the new roommate, see the once-and-future roommate, and watch in amazement as these three kids managed to calmly juggle: picking up a rental truck; backing it up to a loading dock at the other two's old apartment; getting the entire contents loaded and into the new apartment in less than three hours; signing the lease; picking up Nate's stuff from the storage facility, loading it onto the truck and then unloading it into the new apartment.  Do you have any idea just how many sets of KEYS this entailed, not to mention planning, cooperation, and judgment?  And readers, they pulled it all off.  Efficiently, intelligently, and with exceeding good humor.  So I was able to leave to catch my 5:00 p.m. train home with a peaceful mind, knowing that Nate is in good hands and that there is almost no problem these three couldn't handle together.
     I'm so grateful that my husband thought of this plan, and then persisted with it.  And I'm beyond grateful that, by all indications, Nate is going to find his way in the world and be happy.
     Toward the end of December of 1988, my first husband and I separated.  At the beginning of the following March, I discovered that I was four months pregnant.  (Yeah, I know, it's the question everyone asks: no, I wasn't getting my period, but I chalked it up to the stress of the separation.)  I was ten years out of law school, but had just started a new job and was only beginning to learn how to be a trial attorney.  My father had died many years earlier, and I was estranged from my mother and brother.  To put it mildly, neither my future, nor my baby's, looked remotely promising.
     But we made it, Nathan and I.  Somehow, as a single parent from Day One, in all of my ignorance of what good mothering would even look like, in all of my terror, I managed to blunder my way into doing a lot of things right.   I must have.  Look at him.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vermont Makes Me Happy

... even hokey Vermont, like the Ben & Jerry's factory tour.  The flier I had said that each tour participant gets a free T-shirt and either a free pint of ice cream or a voucher for same.  The flier LIED, people.  We each got a single mini-scoop of the day's experimental flavor: pineapple and white chocolate.  Not a combination I would recommend.  And here's my question: do Ben and Jerry spend more time (a) making ice cream, (b) doing good in the world, or (c) patting themselves on the back for doing good in the world?  It's a close call indeed.  But I guess in this regard, making ice cream is not that different from making books.  If you don't put yourself out there, it's not going to sell.
     I got another "liked-it-a-lot-but-didn't-love-it" rejection email this morning, but at least I got to read this one while looking out a window in our rented house across beautiful, placid Lake Champlain.

  And I got to read it while on vacation, very possibly for the last time, with my whole crew: one husband, two kids, two dogs.  The one that's striking out on his own most immediately is my son.  Either the night we get back to New Jersey or early the following morning, he's leaving to start his new life as a law student in DC.  For the next few days, though, I'll have the privilege of watching him and my daughter engage in mock shoving matches across the table at restaurants, and THAT makes me happy too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Thrill of Victory; the Agony of (Giveaway) Defeat

     Well, okay then.  So much for my generous impulse to donate my copy of "Where Things Come Back."  For me, this book can never come back, because evidently it will never go away.  I will chalk my effort up to a noble, but failed experiment.  The book and I will have to learn to coexist peacefully, despite our differences.
     And speaking of noble but failed: don't you have to love that tragedy-into-triumph story of Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. Women's gymnastic team?  Didn't she come through for her teammates like a real champion?  I did feel sorry for those tearful Russian girls, though.  Especially knowing that they'll be going straight to the gulag upon their return.  KIDDING.  I feel particularly bad for them because their loss clearly wasn't entirely their own fault.  Each of them was cruelly weighed down in competition by at least a pound of State-issued eye makeup, and the effect could well have impacted on their ability to achieve the necessary height on their jumps.  But we'll never know, will we?
     I never expect to get hooked on the Olympics dramarama, but somehow I always do.  As a quintessential nonathlete, I watch it with the fascination of a six-year-old at a magic show.  How do they DO that?  Or rather, how do they so convincingly make it appear that they're doing it, when I know full well that it's all physically impossible?  Of course none of it is real, but I'm always just a little too slow to catch them in the act.  So I keep watching.
   Can't wait for Saturday, when my family is going to South Hero, Vermont, for a week of hanging out and doing nothing in particular.  My hope is that I'll finally get back to w-r-i-t-i-n-g, but I can't say it for fear of jinxing it.  But if you want to send good vibes my way, I'll gratefully accept them.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hail Britannia

     There are things not to like about Great Britain.  There are things not to like about many countries, including my own.  But there's one thing you have to admit about the British people: they truly cherish their kidlit.  You saw the Olympics opening ceremony, right?  Or were you one of the nine people on the planet who missed it?  The country that gave us Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and Harry Potter was absolutely CROWING about their wondrous children's book authors!  In a forum promoting the ultimate in national self-congratulation, they gave those books pride of place right up there next to Shakespeare's plays.  YEAH, they said to every other country represented there; these are OUR children's book writers.  Everyone else: eat your heart out.

     I never saw any Dr. Seuss characters pop up at the Salt Lake City Olympics, did you?  Let's face facts, fellow kidlit authors: in this respect, the Brits have taken the gold.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


     That's right!  I had such a good time running a giveaway contest for Kami Kinard's book that I am now immediately segueing into ANOTHER giveaway!!  Too good to be true, you say?  Well, there is one catch: I'm giving this book away because I didn't like it.
     I bought a hardcover copy of John Corey Whaley's novel, "Where Things Come Back," because I saw that it had won a Printz Award as well as a William C. Morris Debut Award, which of course seemed promising.  I struggled to get through it, however, and came away with the feeling that the YA world must be fairly desperate for boy books.  But I am not here to pan this novel or to bias you against it.  Au contraire!  I am here to tell you that PLENTY of others like this book, and that perhaps you will too!  Kirkus Reviews, for example, calls it a poignant and hilarious story of loss and redemption which "explores the process of grief, second chances, and even the meaning of life."  Well, I ask you: how much more comprehensive can one get??  Yeah.  Exactly. 
     So here are my rules for the contest:  Read whatever you want to about this book and its author. Then, leave a comment that convinces me that you have absolutely no respect for my opinion.  Prove to me that this book will, at the very least, find a loving home on your shelf, and perhaps even change your life.  Make me see that small towns in Arkansas, disappearing brothers, and extinct woodpeckers are, to you, the stuff of dreams.  If I consider your comment the most persuasive one I receive, the book is yours.  Contest ends at midnight EST on July 31st.  My copy of the book is in like-new condition, and its fate lies in your hands.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

And the Winner Is....

     Okay, my giveaway contest has ended, and my favorite among all the awesome comments I received was Cathy's at Bildebok.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for a good quote, especially one from Marie Curie!  Congratulations, Cathy!  Email me your address at muranosb (at)  and I'll have the book winging its way to you ASAP!  All other commenters:  I plan to keep doing interviews and giveraways, so do not despair!  Just keep visiting me here and leaving cooments, tell your friends to do the same, and we can get a good little thing going!  Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, July 20, 2012

God, Guts and Guns

     This morning, as I was driving to work in Newark, I found myself behind a Ford truck with a bumper sticker that read: "This country was built on God, Guts and Guns.  Let's keep all three."   Really?  The country was built on God?  My country was built on the Constitution, which contains a provision prohibiting the establishment of religion.  And guts?  I'm guessing truck-man's definition of guts wouldn't match mine.  And guns?  When I got to work, I learned about the tragic shooting last night in a Colorado movie theater.  Apparently, the shooter used multiple firearms.
     The NRA's line is: guns for us, the righteous citizens, not for criminals.  But when it draws its "us" line, George Zimmerman in Florida falls within it.  Now there's a man who personifies the God, Guts, and Guns way of thinking.  In fact, as he proudly and publicly announced, he's losing no sleep over having shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old boy, because it was all part of God's plan.  As Trayvon Martin's parents responded: No.  It wasn't OUR God's plan.
     There are too many guns around, too readily obtainable, and the NRA has made sure to always take full advantage of its own lobbying clout to block legislation that would carve out stricter limits.   The gun lobby can toss around any slogans it wants to about how "guns don't kill people."  But last night in Colorado, guns did.  When will we learn?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kami Kinard, Part II

     From age nine through twelve, I spent a month each summer at sleepaway camp.  I think it was the last of those summers when my counselor, distributing individual assignments to the girls in my bunk for Color War, gave me the task of writing somethiung - a slogan, maybe, or a cheer or an article.  I swelled with pride.  "How did you know I write?"
     Her brow furrowed.  "What do you mean, you write?  You mean, professionally?"
     I laughed at the ludicrousness of that idea.  "No.  I mean, I ... write."  I didn't know any other way to explain it.
     She looked perplexed.  "I didn't know."
     Suddenly, the light bulb turned on in my brain.  "Oh.  You mean you just assigned me to write because you knew I couldn't do anything else."
     She nodded appreciatively.  "Yeah," she said.  And I nodded back.
     Well, she had a point.  I couldn't sing, I couldn't dance, I sucked at sports.  But no one in the bunk could be left out of the Color War effort,  and so ...  Put a pencil in my hand and just hope I'll stay out of the way and manage to use it without stabbing myself.  The odd thing, as I remember it now, is that I didn't even feel insulted.  I had no illusions about where I ranked.  My counselor was matter-of-fact, and so was I.
     Forty-odd years later, I still can't sing or dance or play sports, but I seem to have inched my way up from the bottom of the food chain because, fortunately, there are significant discrepancies between the skill set needed to succeed at Color War and that needed to succeed at Life.  And this is why I LOVE Kami Kinard's "Nerdy Chicks Rule" blog concept.  Not all successful women started out as nerdy girls, of course, but, in my experience at least, a lot more of them did than my 12-year-old self would ever have dreamed possible.  And that's what Kami Kinard and I would both like for nerdy girls to be able to do: to dream that, for them, anything is possible.   Take off running, nerdy chicks!  Spread your wings and soar!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interview With MG Novelist Kami Kinard


 After a humiliating game of Spin-the-Bottle from which twelve-year-old Kara McAllister emerges unkissed, she goes home and makes a Boyfriend Chart.  And that's when she learns, to her horror, that she is the ONLY one of the fourteen girls in her class who has never (as in, never going back to first grade) had a boyfriend.  Resolved to do something about this, Kara settles on the scientific method: unobtrusively study as many boys (a.k.a. "subjects") as she can in their natural habitat (i.e., school), take notes on their characteristics, and try to figure out where the glitch lies.  Nothing turns out the way Kara expected it to, but she learns a lot about her classmates (both male and female), her sister, and most of all, herself.  And since Kara is a good student, she picks up some very useful information along the way about popular kids, popular teachers, and popular opinion.  
     Kami Kinard's middle-grade novel, "The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister)", was published by Scholastic in January 2012, and it's a funny, fun read with some important, appropriately understated messages.  Here's my interview with Kami:

Kami, as someone who was, is, and will forever be a nerdy chick, I salute your  celebration of all of us in your blog,, and in your middle-grade novel, "The Boy Project." Tell me something:  are there really that many of us out there?
And if so, shouldn’t we be banding together and taking over the world?
Hmmmm. The problem is, most nerdy chicks are too smart to get into politics, thus,  world takeover.

At a recent SCBWI conference, I attended a workshop you presented entitled "The Yin and Yang of Character Development." One of the focal points was that all protagonists must have a fatal character flaw, so that they can grow and change. Kara McAllister’s fatal flaw appears to be her impulsiveness, which gets her into some very awkward (but very funny) situations. But does Kara actually gain any control over her impulsiveness by the end of the book? Or does she just learn to channel some of it more productively, into her craft projects and blog?
I saw Kara’s flaw differently. At first, she judges and rates all of the boys and looks for the one that is perfect for her. Then she realizes that she might not be perfect. She has to modify some of her characteristics in the end to find a relationship. She becomes brave enough to risk rejection. I think shyness holds a lot of nerdy chicks (and roosters) back, but we often have to risk rejection to find meaningful relationships.

It’s very impressive that you’ve conjured up almost an entire middle-school class, and made each kid so distinctive. It makes me wonder … Do Kara’s classmates bear any relation to your own middle-school classmates?
Sure. But all of my characters are composites. They are combinations of a little of one person, a little of another, and a lot of fiction.

And while we’re on the subject: the names "Kara" and "Kami" differ only in one vowel and one consonant. Is this a coincidence?
This is a coincidence… I think. I didn’t put a lot of thought into the names in my novel at first. That’s a mistake I won’t make again!
Or have you, perhaps, encountered the inside of the boys’ bathroom yourself once or twice?
The only time I went into a boys’ bathroom was back when I was a high school teacher and one of my students kindly told me there was something written about me on the wall. The janitor offered to scrub it off for me, but I didn’t want him to read it, so he guarded the door and I scrubbed!            
When did the idea of writing a novel for middle-schoolers first occur to you?
 I got the idea for writing this novel after reading my middle school diaries. I also had a son in middle school at the time, so I was living the middle school life again, kind of.

 How much time passed from that point until you had a completed manuscript?
 Just a few months. It was the fastest I ever completed a first draft.
 What parts of the process went more smoothly for you than you expected?
 The first draft!
 What unexpected stumbling blocks arose?
 After the manuscript was sent out the first time by my agent, we got feedback that made me    realize I had to change the entire format of my book. That took longer to do than the first draft, but I’m glad that I did it!              

I like that your novel is realistic enough not to pretend that life is always fair.  Nothing particularly bad ever happens to the evil Queen Bee or to the rude Alpha Boy; nor does Kara’s vindictive teacher get punished as he deserves. Kara just learns to navigate around all of them. When you were writing the book, did you ever consider giving everyone his or her just desserts?
I didn’t think about that. I have had a couple of people say they wished something bad had happed to the mean girl. I guess that always does happen on TV.
What made you decide not to?
I just didn’t need anything bad to happen to them to move the plot forward. But I have to be honest and say that revenge has never been a motivator for me, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t be for my character either. 

How has your life/daily schedule changed since "The Boy Project" was published?
Well, it is much harder to find time to write than it used to be!
Have you had to reshuffle some priorities?
Yes, I have had to give up writing time for book promotion.

Can you talk a little bit about your next work-in-progress? Will you be sticking with middle-grade? With a humorous approach? With Kara McAllister?
I’d love to do another Kara McAllister book someday, but right now I am working on another humorous middle grade for girls and also a fantasy. I hope to finish one of them by the end of the year!

Thank you so much, Kami! Best wishes for all your future "projects!"
Thank you Susan!

     Okay, now here's where I'm going to try something I've never tried before in my neverending quest for blog hits: a giveaway (suggested by Kami herself) of my very own copy of "The Boy Project," in pristine condition if you don't count the pale green mark at the bottom of page 167 (sorry.  A leaf or something.)  But the price can't be beat: I'll mail it to you, free, anywhere on the planet!  (Full disclosure: all submissions from other planets will be read, but the bar will be set a LOT higher for them, given the cost of postage.  Outside our solar system = don't even bother.)  All you have to do is leave a comment on this page before midnight on Thursday, July 12th (my son Nathan's birthday!!), Eastern Standard Time.  If I get multiple comments, I'll choose which one I like best, and that person will be the book recipient.  Sincere birthday wishes for Nathan will not go unnoticed. All in all, you've got much to gain, nothing to lose, the way I see it.  Let's see what happens. 

***NEWS FLASH!!***   Due to the kind intervention of Donna Taylor, my new fairy godmother, the fabulous Kathy Temean has agreed to post this interview on her own (deservedly very popular) blog, and so I am going to extend my book-giveaway offer to one week from today.  If Jeannie wants the book, I'll buy her her own copy, and I will give away my copy to whoever posts the best comment (in my opinion) between now and midnight, July 20th, Eastern Standard Time.  Come on!  You know you want this book!  And I'm sending a huge thank you to Donna and Kathy!

     Meanwhile, Kami can be found at her website,,  at her Facebook page,, or at her blog,, where she posts author interviews and mini-bios of "quotable
nerdy chicks," including some very famous women you might have mistakenly thought you knew all
about!  Keep an eye out for Kami and her Posse of Nerdy Chicks!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Step Right Up!

- FACT:  The guy who created all those Ginsu Knife commercials 20 years ago died last week.
- FACT:  This week, Mitt Romney explains why the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate he enacted as governof Massachusetts bear no resemblance whatsoever to each other.
     COINCIDENCE?  I THINK NOT.  A huckster is a huckster is a huckster.  And when one huckster leaves this Earth, evidently his soul enters the body of another huckster.

     What kind of animal is this ACA mandate of which we speak?  Why, it's a penalty - anyone can see that.  No, wait!  I misspoke!  It's not a penalty - it's - it's a TAX!!  Yeah, that's it, a TAX!   But - but - the mandate I created in Massachusetts WASN'T a tax!  Why?  Um... Give me a minute... I've got it!  It wasn't a tax because the Supreme Court (glory hallelujah!), with whom I completely disagree about this whole subject, but which is still the SUPREME COURT (glory hallelujah!), hasn't specifically called it a tax.  Ergo, I DID NOT RAISE TAXES.  Are you following this? Whereas the Court HAS called the ACA mandate a tax, so that makes it a tax, even though (have I mentioned?) I completely disagree with the SUPREME COURT (glory, etc.) about this whole subject!  Am I making myself perfectly clear?
     I guess it's the constitutional right of all Americans, including presidential candidates, to run some absurd bullshit story up the flagpole and see if it flies, but - really.  Can't he do any better than THAT?  I'm embarrassed for the guy, and I don't even like him.  As firmly as I believe that there's a sucker born every minute, I also believe that even the suckers among us deserve better than a president who doesn't mind sounding like a guy playing three-card monte on a street corner.  Have a little dignity about it, Mitt.  When you pull this kind of stunt, all you do is make it painfully obvious to all that you can't really distinguish the two forms of mandate, because they're one and the same.  Face it - you have nothing up your sleeve.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Twitching Inside My Skin

     Everything feels off to me today.  I stayed up too late last night reading, woke up too early, couldn't go back to sleep.  I don't much like holidays anyway - the Fun Police telling me what I should be doing sets my teeth on edge - and the 4th of July is one of my least favorites.  The fireworks drive my dogs insane, and the last few years my husband and I have spent our 4th of July evenings cuddling them and crooning that it's going to be okay.  But I have some other things on my mind too.
     One of them is actually a very good thing, objectively speaking, which doesn't mean that I subjectively feel great about it.  We're going away for a week's vacation exactly a month from now, and within days of when we get back, my son will be moving to DC to get settled in and begin law school.  Like I said, a really good thing, right?  If only I didn't already miss him so much that I've taken to wandering around his room when he's not there, deriving comfort from the mess because it signifies his presence.
     The other thing on my mind is NOT a good thing in any sense of the word.  My father-in-law's health is failing.  He's 91 years old, very thin, very weak.  My husband and daughter and I were planning to spend this past weekend in Baltimore anyway, visiting him and my mother-in-law, but like millions of other people along the East Coast, they lost power in their home, rendering it unlivable.  We ended up moving them, all their equipment, and my father-in-law's oxygen tank, to a hotel room, where they were imprisoned for two days until they got their power back on.  They're back home now, but I'm sure they're not fully recovered yet from the experience.  I know I'm not.
     It's going to be a long, hot summer for me, I think.  I could really use the cooling breeze of a book contract right about now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Affordable Care Act

Obama - YES.

Obamacare - YES.

Chief Justice Roberts (?????) - OH YES.