Monday, December 28, 2020

Too many books, too little clarity #IMWAYR

It's Monday! What are you reading?  

The kidlit version of #IMWAYR was started by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts. You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter. 

Unfortunately, no, this is not what I'm reading at the moment. 

If only I'd ordered the audio version of some of these lovely books, I'd be listening to them right now! My vision is still blurry. The ophthalmologist says it's an "unexplained swelling in the retina" of my right eye. The prednisolone eye drops that I have to use three times a day are actually helping or I wouldn't be able to type this. But reading is still difficult and tiring. I have an appointment with the retina specialist in January. I figure it can't be too serious or they wouldn't make me wait a month!

Just another bump in the road that has been 2020. I'm sure you are looking forward to 2021 as much as I am! This year has been mostly horrible but with some wonderful moments (like joining #the21ders in June and getting to know some of my fellow debut authors! And reading some of their wonderful e-arcs before my vision went blurry). 

What I AM reading (slowly) is a physical ARC of another of The21ders' debut novels, GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE by Yvette Clark, coming May 4, 2021 from HarperCollins.  I'm not very far into it yet, because I can't read more than a chapter a day, but I'm already in love with Yvette Clark's writing and her main character, Kitty. 

You can preorder it from the publisher or other book sources. Here's a link to Yvette's website with handy preorder buttons (although I wish they included Bookshop or Indiebound). Or if you preorder it from your local independent bookstore, they will love you forever! And it may help them stay in business during this ongoing pandemic.

What are YOU reading?

And since I won't post again for a while, Happy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2020

THE NIGHTMARE THIEF by Nicole Lesperance for #IMWAYR

Hi, everyone! First, please forgive me for joining #IMWAYR -- and then disappearing for three weeks. I've been dealing with headaches and blurry vision, so reading has become difficult. The good news: I had a CT scan of the head and neck, and a follow-up video visit with my neurosurgeon. She says my brain is in great shape! (Yes, contrary to popular opinion, I do have a brain...) No new aneurysms, and the coils, clip, and shunt are all working properly. 

As for the blurry vision, I have an ophthalmologist appointment at the end of this week. Keep your fingers crossed that it's not serious. I feel as if my prescription changed suddenly. 

In the middle of all this, I finally received page proofs from my editor and had only ten days to read through them. So I had to discipline myself to stay off social media, stay off the computer for other reasons, and read 25 pages a day of my proofs for those ten days. I've never been so happy to have written a novel in verse. So few words on the page!

From now on, I will try to continue to participate in #IMWAYR, but probably only every other week. And it may take me a few days to read your posts, so please be patient with me. 


The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance (coming January 12, 2021, Sourcebooks, ages 8 and up)

What a fascinating novel! It's both deliciously creepy (oh, that villain! Oh, those nightmares!) and heartwarmingly touching at the same time. This book will rank right up there with Coraline by Neil Gaiman, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and Savvy by Ingrid Law. And the writing is so imaginative and so visual I could totally see this book as a movie.

Set in the fictional New England town of Rockpool Bay, this delightfully whimsical tale of magic and dancing and dreams will pull you in from the first page. Maren Partridge is learning from her grandmother how to create dreams, which her family sells in their shop, Typewriters and Dreams. There are lots of other magical products in Rockpool Bay: singing bubbles, edible fireworks, roses that grow back as soon as they're picked. But Maren's family's dream shop is the only one in town.

Then a mysterious woman enters the shop and wants to buy a dozen nightmares. Maren's grandmother will only sell three nightmares at once. 

The other hard and fast rule: dreams cannot be given to someone without their consent. 

Maren's older sister, Hallie, is in a coma after a car accident, and Maren decides to break the rules and give her sister a nice dream, hoping it will awaken her from her coma. But the mysterious new customer happens to witness Maren's transgression and bribes her into stealing nightmares for her from the shop.

As the mysterious woman's true purpose becomes clear, the story becomes so compelling, you won't want to stop reading. Because of my vision issues, I could only read a little at a time, and it was driving me nuts! And the best news of all: there's a sequel!

This book will arrive in one month. You can pre-order it from Bookshop.

Here's Nicole's website

Sunday, November 15, 2020

More Wonderful Debut MG Novels from #the21ders! for #IMWAYR

 Hi Everyone!

It's been a couple of bizarre weeks here in the US, with the votes finally counted, and the outgoing president refusing to concede to the newly-elected (and rightfully-elected) one! 

I handle the anxiety by reading, as usual. I decided to join #IMWAYR, hosted, as far as I can tell by Book Date! And I just found out there's one for Kidlit at Unleashing Readers! Yes, I know it's Sunday, but hey, most people won't read this post until tomorrow, right?

Here's my second installment of reviews of upcoming debut novels by my fellow MG 21ders. These are books I've been privileged to read already (usually via e-arcs from the publisher and Edelweiss+ or Netgalley).  In case you missed it, my last review post is here.

You're in for more treats, as all of these MG novels are most impressive! And... all of these wonderful books are available for pre-order! I've included links to the publishers (just click on each title), and also links to Bookshop this time (if available). When you order from Bookshop it helps Indie bookstores everywhere. Thank you!

The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman (April 6, 2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

What a delightful tale! This is a fantasy reimagining of A Little Princess, but even if you're not familiar with that classic, you'll still enjoy this gorgeously-written, fast-paced story set in 1890s New York City, instead of England. The main characters are Emma, a rich girl, and Izzy, a servant at the academy where Emma's wealthy father enrolls her to learn how to kindle her magic. In the impressive world Colman has created, children must learn to kindle their magic at the age of 12, before it snuffs out at age 13. But only the rich can afford to pay for this education.

Compelling and fast-paced, this is a joy to read. The author has created a fully-realized magical world, with clever details, the perfect villain, loyal friends, and social commentaries that are timely today. Plus, BEST. OPENING. LINE. EVER!

Order from Bookshop

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar: The Chronicles of Astranthia # 1,  by Payal Doshi (May 2021, Mango and Marigold Press)

A compelling MG fantasy adventure, with gorgeous, evocative language and highly-imaginative elements. Rea and her twin brother Rohan are about to turn 12 in Darjeeling, India. They live with their mother (Amma) and grandmother (Bajai) and life is sometimes difficult. Amma and Bajai seem to pay more attention to Rohan, and Rea is jealous. On the night of their 12th birthday, their mother and grandmother warn them to stay in the house, but Rohan slips out to meet his friends, and Rea follows him, along with her friend Leela. Then Rohan goes missing and Rea and Leela search for him. With advice from a fortune teller, they enter another world, Astranthia, a place of magic, flowers, and fairy folk. Queen Razya is deliciously evil, the perfect villain, right up there with Maleficent. If you enjoy portal fantasies, you will love this imaginative tale.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler (January 12, 2021, Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)

A beautifully-written and moving story about a young girl's grief for her father, a famous artist, who died a year ago. He was known mostly for his asterisms, paintings of made-up constellations, one which represented himself and one his wife. He had planned to paint one of Georgia, but then he died. 

When Georgia's mother starts putting together a retrospective exhibit on Georgia's dad for the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, she brings home stacks of papers. Georgia finds a previously-unknown sketch of herself at age 10, and discovers something amazing on the back. Around this same time, she gets into a fight with her best friend, Theo. He urges her to enter an art contest for students, the one he's entering. But Georgia is no longer sure if she wants to be an artist like her dad. She's no longer sure of anything.

This touching story of Georgia's twelfth year, and the compelling MG voice, will draw you in from the first page. The art mystery itself will intrigue you. Art, Science and Astronomy all come together in this brilliant contemporary novel.  

Thanks, a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas (May 11, 2021, Amulet Books/Abrams)

I love this novel! 

Told in alternating first person points of view, this delightful story of Brian and Ezra, two boys turning thirteen and learning to navigate the often-confusing world of adolescence, will pull you in from the first page. When you reach the inciting incident (quite early on), you'll be hooked until you finish reading! No spoilers here, though.

Many one-sentence paragraphs help make the pace lightning-fast. I read this in two days, which is some kind of miraculous record for me. Especially since I was reading the e-ARC on my laptop. (No, I don't own a Kindle!)

The most diverse cast I've seen in many years of reading MG, and it's all handled in a smart, sophisticated way. Brian's social anxiety (which he calls his Super Awkward Weirdness Syndrome) comes across perfectly, and the way Ezra learns to accept his own nature is endearing. The humor, especially in the dialogue, is wonderful! Chad Lucas is a writer to watch out for. I can't wait to read whatever he writes next!

Up next for me, two more debut 2021 MG novels, An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke, and The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance. 

What have you read lately?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A First Look at Some 2021 MG Debut Novels

Hi, everyone!

In an effort to avoid reading the news, listening to the news, and getting stressed out over the election here in the U.S. as well as the surging Covid cases (all over the world AND here), I've decided to resurrect my sadly-neglected little blog about books!

And the best use for this blog right now is to support and promote the first group of my fellow MG 21ders! (My own debut MG novel, EVERYWHERE BLUE, arrives June 1, 2021 from Holiday House. No cover yet. Sigh. It'll be revealed in January. For now, here's the Goodreads link.)

As a 21der, I have the honor and privilege of reading as many ARCs of the 21ders' books as I can. I won't be able to read all of them in a year or two -- there are 50 of us MG debut authors alone, and twice as many YA debut authors!

Please support these wonderful authors and consider pre-ordering their books from Bookshop, Indiebound, or your local Indie bookstore, or if you insist, from B&N or Amazon. You can even order direct from the publisher! I'm including the publisher links here.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE by Christina Li, HarperCollins, January 12, 2021

Told in alternating points of view, this lovely story of two very different 12-year-olds who become friends will resonate with you. Ro, grieving for her dead father, loves science and wants to build a rocket. Benji loves comic books and wants to find his father, who left his family a long time ago.

A quietly beautiful story about connections. The characters feel so real to me!  Ro and Benji will linger in my mind for quite a while. I love their growing friendship and the way they help each other through some tough times.  (I  actually posted about this book in September)

ALONE by Megan E. Freeman,  Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, January 12, 2021

A compelling novel in verse about 12-year-old Maddie, who is left behind when her town is mysteriously evacuated overnight. How she learns to survive makes for a fascinating read. In fact, I read this in one day. The verse format is perfect for this intensely emotional story, with absorbing details about Maddie's life on her own, accompanied only by a neighbor's dog.

TAKE BACK THE BLOCK by Chrystal D. Giles, Random House Children's Books, January 26, 2021

Fast-paced and exciting story about one boy's growing awareness of social justice. I'm so impressed by the voice in this novel! Twelve-year-old Wes feels like a real boy to me, with real worries about his friends and his neighborhood. His growth, from someone in the beginning who cares most about his shoes and clothes and video games, to a socially-aware and strong leader among his neighbors and classmates, is phenomenal! The writing style is highly accessible, and middle-grade readers will learn about gentrification and social injustice without even realizing they're learning. A powerful, timely read.

A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus, Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, Feb 2, 2021

Orphaned siblings join other evacuees from London during World War II, and seek a home in the country. They deal with bullies in their first billet, and overcrowded conditions in their second. But they manage to handle it all because they find solace in the local library.

I fell in love with this novel from the very first page. What a delightful story! William, Edmund, and Anna will steal your heart, and you'll find yourself racing to finish to learn if they find a forever home (and if it's the one you hope!). But at the same time, you'll want to slow down and savor this book, because it's such a wonderful read and filled with so many gorgeous, and very quotable, lines. (But since I read an e-arc, I'm not supposed to quote from it!)

 *  *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *

Next time: I'll be discussing THE GILDED GIRL by Alyssa Colman, REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR by Payal Doshi, MANY POINTS OF ME by Caroline Gertler, and THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE by Chad Lucas. 

It's lovely to have so much to read when I'm trying to escape from the world right now! How are you handling these unprecedented times? Stay safe, everyone!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- Mid-September thoughts


Sunday, September 13 (Day 188):

Woke up with an aching jaw, which happens far more often than I admit.

I'm still keeping this diary in a spiral notebook, scribbled each night by hand. I write down the day's events and my thoughts, so it's a combination diary/journal about living through a pandemic.

But the days are growing more similar all the time. So I will quietly let this Pandemic Diary fade into the past.

We have a routine. 

We're still hunkering down, as Dr. Fauci suggested we all do for the next few months. 

We're still having groceries delivered.

We cook in for the most part. Have gotten take-out a few times. But we're not ready to eat in a restaurant and won't be for some time. This article explains it perfectly! An excerpt: "However, people who tested positive, the data showed, were more likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the two weeks before they started to feel sick."

Every day, we take turns killing spotted lanternflies on our deck. They're not as numerous as they were a month ago, but they're still annoying. Here's an article about their proliferation in Pennsylvania.

What else do we do? We walk.

We watch a lot of Netflix.

My husband gardens.

I read. And write.

I follow the other #the21ders on social media and on our website and talk to some of them on our private Slack group. This is my one bright spot in a world gone crazy. Wildfires are destroying the West, BLM protests continue (and rightly so). Still waiting for Justice for Breonna Taylor

And the pandemic continues, with, ahem, some people having rallies and not wearing masks. There were over 260,000 cases of covid among the attendees after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. And a certain politician continues to eschew masks. I can't stand it.

But a new book called The Reindeer Chronicles might help us all come back from despair! At least, ecologically. Here's the opening line: “That which has been damaged can be healed.”

Acording to The Revelator, it’s a quote from ecological design pioneer John Todd that opens The Reindeer Chronicles,  a new book from author Judith D. Schwartz.the ask

It’s a fitting quote for a time when we’re facing multiple crises and good news is in short supply — and an apt beginning for a book that takes readers across the world to learn about the ways nature’s being harnessed to help restore some of the most damaged parts of our planet.

A few books I've read since my last post:

The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks DuBois (August 2020, Holiday House, for ages 9 to 13)

A touching debut novel from my publisher, Holiday House, and edited by my editor! This MG novel in verse explores the aftermath of 9/11 from the POV of a young girl. 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (2019, Greenwillow, for ages 8 to 12)

A gorgeous and highly original fable from the Newbery-winning author of Hello, Universe. I love this quote: "The menyoro's only interested in two things -- being adored and being obeyed. And it seems you don't need knowledge for people to do either of those."

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (Due January 2021, Quill Tree/HarperCollins, e-arc)

The first book I've read by one of #the21ders! I was honored to receive an e-arc and read it in two and a half days (which is fast for me!). I loved this story of friendship and comic books, stars and model rockets. Unlikely science-fair partners Ro and Benji pair up to help each other. Benji agrees to help Ro, still grieving from the death of her father, with her model rocket, and Ro agrees to help Benji find his long-lost father, who writes the comic books Benji loves. What an adorable story! And I'm in love with the cover!

COVID-19 World Stats as of Saturday Sept 12 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 28,154,158

Confirmed deaths: 916,955

US COVID-19 Stats as of Saturday Sept 12 (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 6,427,058

Confirmed deaths: 192,388

I won't be around here much, but come check out my new author website! When I get my act together, I'll have an occasional newsletter. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter. Or Instagram.

What is your routine during this ongoing pandemic? Is it the same as it was in March or April?

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- as August winds down, will life ever go back to normal?

Catching up on the Pandemic Diary

I know it's been nearly three weeks since I posted this diary and I'm sorry. But life gets a little crazy.

Sunday, August 16 (Day 160):

Yuck! Yes, that's a dust pan full of dead spotted lanternflies. I'm so sick of these invasive bugs! We've been killing 50 or 60 a day for weeks. They're getting wilier and more agressive as the August heat soars.

I woke up with a headache today, which happens much too often, and all I did all day was kill these bleeping bugs! That dust pan represents just one session of swatting and stomping. Add to that at least two or three more sessions a day.
You may remember that I couldn't call my mother when she first moved into Assisted Living. The good news is her phone was finally repaired and I can now call her. She's gone from a four-room Independent Living apartment to one small bedroom/sitting room, and she tells me she's feeling hemmed in now. I hope soon she'll get used to it. 

Tuesday, August 18 (Day 162):

This week I'm reading THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS by Leah Henderson. What a delightful story! Plus, it's time travel! Fast-paced, heartwarming, filled with suspense and love and Black excellence. Ailey is a likeable character and I adored his Grampa. All the characters are named for famous Black people, not just dancers like Alvin Ailey, but inventors, historians, authors, politicians, athletes, teachers, entrepreneurs. Perfect for libraries and schools! We need far more books like this, not just books about slavery or the Underground Railroad. Positive books about Black kids today. 

Friday, August 21 (Day 165):

Can you believe we've been sheltering in place for 165 days? It boggles the mind. The world has changed so much since early March.

We decided to cancel our landline, because the only calls we ever get on it are spam. It'll take some getting used to, but I'm already more relaxed without that constant ringing. Yes, I get occasional spam calls on my cell phone but nowhere near as many as we got on the landline. 

Tonight, I participated in a Twitter chat with my fellow 2021 debut authors. We're all members of #the21ders. It's been fun getting to know some of them and I'm learning a lot from the Slack group. Most of these debut MG and YA authors are far younger than I am (ha ha!) and more tech-savvy. But I'm really enjoying being part of this debut author group. 

Monday August 24 (Day 168):

This is the first larger group of deer we've seen this summer.  (For a while, we weren't seeing any, although we know they got into our garden at night -- twice!) Mostly, we've seen one or two at a time, and often three. But this group of six walked boldly through our back yard and kept moving. We figured it was three fawns with their moms.

Finished THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS, which I highly recommend.

Started reading YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks, an adult novel, for a change. It's about the Black Plague in England in 1665 and one small town that decides to isolate itself and keep outsiders away. The idea of quarantining an entire village doesn't seem so odd to me, now that we're all living through the Covid-19 pandemic! Thanks, Caroline Starr Rose, for recommending this beautifully-written book. 

Also today... 

my author website is now live!  Please visit and see what my older son has come up with! Isn't he talented? 

Friday, August 28 (Day 172):

I've deliberately avoided talking politics here, but if you're in the US, you know both the Democrats and the Republicans had their conventions (last week and this week), partly virtual because of the pandemic. I didn't watch either of them. Did you?

Excellent news! The spotted lanternflies are dwindling! Fewer and fewer each day this week. I really don't know why, other than the weather's been cooler, especially at night. 

And more excellent news! The 21ders have a website! And here is the link. Check it out. You'll learn about us and all our books.

I've been going through my mother's (pre-digital) photo albums for the last two weeks. She no longer has room for them herself, and my sisters didn't want them. I hated the thought of tossing them all, so I agreed to take them. I don't know where I'm going to keep them (right now they're stacked up in my older son's room, since he's rarely here)! But looking at them has been an interesting journey through my childhood and beyond. 

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 28 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 24,537,560

Confirmed deaths: 833,556

US COVID Stats as of August 27 (from Johns Hopkins):

Confirmed cases:  5.93 million

Confirmed deaths: 182,000 

It keeps going up. Have you been affected by this horrible virus? And please tell me what you're reading this week. Anything good you can recommend? I'll add it to my ever-growing TBR list.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- August 9th: Tropical Storm Isaias and Spotted Lanternflies

Next on my TBR stack, a novel in verse! And isn't that a gorgeous cover?

Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Tuesday, August 4 (Day 148):

Hurricane Isaias has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm. But it's still a nasty storm with a lot of rainfall in a few hours. The storm drain in our backyard flooded. 

And of course, our power went out, around 11:30 am. We're grateful we have a small generator, to keep our food cold. We decided to do this after losing all that food in 2011 from Hurricane Irene. It also runs the microwave and a few lights and the TV (my husband would go nuts without that). But no oven or stove, no washer or dryer, no air conditioner. 

And, naturally, there's no internet. Plus, our landline phones don't work, even the old-fashioned one with the cord that we keep plugged in for emergencies.

Thursday, August 6 (Day 150):

Yes. We've been sheltering in place for 150 days. Hard to believe. And this virus is nowhere near over, even though some people seem to think it is. We will always wear masks if we absolutely have to go out in public, but we mostly stay home.

Still no power, of course, and no internet. It's been two full days now. But I can charge my cell phone and use it as a phone. Not to go online. The internet is still out. 

However, I still can't talk to my mother. Her phone in her new room in Assisted Living still isn't hooked up! This is extremely frustrating. My sister makes several calls a day to the service provider, but still nothing is happening. I wrote my mother another brief letter, telling her how much I miss talking to her.

Rain in the morning, but stopped by afternoon. And yes, the spotted lanternflies always appear in the afternoon when the sun comes out. 

This is just a small portion of the 30 or 40 (or 50) we kill every day now!

Burgers on the grill for dinner. Then we watched "E.T". Believe it or not, we had never seen it all these years. Have you?

Saturday, August 8 (Day 152):

Woke up with a raging headache. Still no power. This is the fourth day now! Peco is telling us it'll be restored by 11 tonight. It's getting old...

Power came back on at 11:26 am! Woo hoo! First thing I did was start a load of laundry. Thank goodness.  

Our sons visited in the early evening, when the deck is shaded enough to sit outside. They stayed about an hour and a half. It was lovely seeing them both again, even if I couldn't hug them.

Still waiting for Justice for Breonna...

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 8 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 19,462,112
Confirmed deaths: 722,285

US Stats as of August 8 (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 4,920,369
Confirmed deaths: 160,220

Tell me about you. Did you lose power from Isaias? Are you inundated with spotted lanternflies?  Are you continuing to shelter in place? 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- I'm back! And the world is crazier than ever...

Currently reading -- and wow, is it intense and moving!

Sunday, August 2, 2020 (Day 146):

I'm back from my one-month break. You may not have even noticed I was gone. But the world (and the Covid-19 crisis, among other crises) went on. I'm not going to bore you with details from every day of the last month (I've been journaling the old-fashioned way -- in a spiral-bound notebook). Good grief, no! I'm also not going to discuss mask controversies (just wear a mask when you go out -- please!), continuing protests over racial injustice, or politics. Especially politics. You get enough of that in your news feed.

Looking back, two things stand out for me from July. 

1) I received and finished going through my copy edits for EVERYWHERE BLUE. This was a new experience for me. Being a debut author has surprises every stage of the journey. Apparently, I have no idea how to type an ellipsis. Always thought it was dot dot dot. But it's not! 

It's dot SPACE dot SPACE dot!

And I've never known the difference between en dashes and em dashes -- and when to use each. Thankfully, my copy editor knows.

The only thing we disagreed on was the spelling of rainforest. One word or two? Rainforest or rain forest? What do you think?

After emailing back the copyedited manuscript to my editor, I breathed a sigh of relief, because of the second thing that happened in July.

2) Toward the end of the month, my mother moved into Assisted Living. This is a huge step, a narrowing of her world, down from a three-room apartment to a single bed/sitting room, about the size of the average dorm room, but with private bath. And now that she's in Assisted Living, I won't be able to visit her, because of Covid. We weren't able to visit from March to early July, when she was in Independent Living. Then when our section of Pennsylvania finally entered the green phase in early July, we could visit again, with masks and distancing, of course. But last week, they moved her and of course that wing of the lifecare facility is off-limits. 

What hurts the most: her phone still isn't hooked up so I can't even call her. My sister is working on that. It's frustrating, to say the least. I sent Mom a card, but I have no way of knowing if she received it. 

I'm trying to keep busy and work on my next novel in verse while I wait for proofs and cover sketches from my publisher. And the second half of my advance, which should be here this week. I hope.

How have you been keeping busy this past month?

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 1 (From WHO):

Confirmed cases: 17,660,623
Confirmed deaths: 680,894

US Stats as of August 2 (From the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 4,601,526
Confirmed deaths: 154,002

As a comparison, here are the stats from a month ago:

COVID-19 World Stats as of July 2 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 10,710,005
Confirmed deaths: 517,877

US Stats as of July 3  (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 2,732,531
Confirmed deaths: 128,648

Yes, it just keeps going up. This won't be over anytime soon, I'm afraid. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reposting a post from April 2016

*NOTE: This post originally appeared on April 4, 2016. It occurred to me today that it was strangely prescient, since my fifth novel became EVERYWHERE BLUE, which is due to be published by Holiday House in Summer 2021.*

Musings on writing my fifth novel


You read that right. I'm nearly finished writing the rough draft of my fifth novel. In the past nine years, I've written four MG novels and one YA, in addition to more than a dozen picture books. And no, in case you're wondering, I don't yet have an agent or a book contract. I've had fourteen publication credits to date, but they're all poems or flash fiction or micro fiction for adults.

Still, I keep writing for children and teens. Perseverance is my mantra.

But I have to admit, Novel #5 is, well, a little different. In what way?

Read on.

I started an idea notebook for my fifth novel back in the late spring of 2015, so nearly a year ago. After gathering ideas, and working out character sketches and a setting and a conflict, I wrote three chapters. Almost immediately, I became stuck. Something didn't feel right about it. So I put it aside and revised my fourth novel instead.

And then, in September, after reading Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (even though it wasn't the first verse novel I read), I had an epiphany.

This new novel? The one I was stuck on? It was meant to be written in verse.

I spent two months reading and studying verse novels and then in November 2015 I started writing Novel #5 all over again.

Am I crazy? Well, this doesn't feel crazy. It feels... right. Since making that decision, the process has changed for me. Writing a verse novel is the hardest thing I've done as a writer, but at the same time, it's like I've grown wings. I look forward to writing every day, which is something I never did with a rough draft before. Rough drafts are usually agony.

I've been accepted into the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse which will take place in May. Who knows where this will lead? Maybe nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, something good will happen.

For the rest of April, in honor of Poetry Month, I'll be looking at a few of the verse novels I've studied in my quest to learn this new (for me) form.

Over the past few years, I've read, in approximately this order:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (this made me first fall in love with verse novels)
Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Libertad by Alma Fullerton
Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

(I've also read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is actually an autobiography, and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which some consider prose poetry.)

What verse novels do you recommend? All suggestions are welcome.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- Taking a break

I believe this is a spiny Spiderflower. It's a volunteer in our flowerbed.

Hi Everyone,

I've decided to take a break from the blog (and most social media) for the rest of July. And yes, I realize it's a privilege to be able to take a break. There are better people than I am out there continuing to fight against racism, police brutality, and the climate crisis. In addition, as I write this, currently 40 out of 50 US states are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. Wear a mask, people!

I'll still be keeping the journal in my notebook, but won't be posting about it here. 

Tuesday, June 30 (Day 113):

Delaware's governor, John Carney, announced he was closing the beach bars for the July 4th weekend. Delaware (not far from me) will remain in Phase 2 of reopening. Pennsylvania is in Phase 3, but we're one of those 40 states experiencing a surge, mostly in the Pittsburgh area and in Philadelphia.

“You can’t have a healthy economy unless you first have a healthy community, so let’s do the work we need to do together — not just the governor, not just me but all of us, to make sure we’re wearing these masks, we’re physically distancing, we’re going out, getting tested at one of the COVID-19 testing sites,” New Castle County Executive Matthew Meyer said.

Also today, I went to the dentist. This checkup and cleaning had been put off since February (I had a cold and after that the pandemic started...). It's a lovely feeling to have clean teeth again. Everyone on the staff wore full PPE, which relieved my mind, and I wore a mask right up until I sat in the chair to have my teeth cleaned.

My dental hygenist (who's been cleaning my teeth for at least 15 years) was thrilled to hear about my novel.

Currently reading:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015, One World, 176 pages)

Written as a letter to the author's 15-year-old son, this National Book Award Winner for nonfiction is a beautifully-rendered account of what it's like growing up Black in America. Gorgeous, somber writing, and an eye-opener for any white reader who may not understand what it's like for young Black men (and women) just to go out of the house, to be prepared for anything they might encounter.

Wednesday, July 1 (Day 114):

A deer got into our Accidental Garden last night and ate the top half off all our tomato plants and pea plants, just after they'd finally grown flowers and were even starting to sprout vegetables! We'd eaten a few tiny peas, but they really needed to grow more.

Thursday, July 2 (Day 115):

My husband added more deer fencing to the garden. Previously, the taller deer fence only covered half of it, and shorter chicken wire had covered the far end, which is probably how the deer managed to get in (and out) of the garden in the middle of Tuesday night. We're hoping this will keep them out for good!

I really felt sorry for my husband. This has been his project more than mine, since the spruce tree blew over in that windstorm April 30th. He was devastated, and it was a lot of work putting up all that fencing. I offered to help but he insisted he could handle it.

COVID-19 World Stats as of July 2 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 10,710,005
Confirmed deaths: 517,877

US Stats as of July 3  (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 2,732,531
Confirmed deaths: 128,648

The world now has more than half a million deaths from this horrible virus. Stay healthy. Stay safe this holiday weekend!

Have you been tested yet?  And what are you currently reading?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Pandemic Diary Entry #18

St John's Wort growing in our backyard 


Monday, June 22 (Day 105):

Woke up with an aching jaw. Hasn't happened for a couple of weeks. Luckily, it went away after Tylenol and breakfast.  

Today is our anniversary! We've been married 35 years. 

Definitely the most unusual anniversary we've ever celebrated. In pre-pandemic times, we always went away for our anniversary, usually for three or four days. This year, of course, we're staying home. We "vacation" on our deck. And yes, I fully realize how fortunate we are to have this private little oasis.

Our best friends texted us in the morning and offered to bring take-out over for lunch. Of course, we said yes! It was a lot of fun. It was also a hot day, 93 F on our deck by 12:30, so we ended up eating inside. We set up our six-foot long rectangular kitchen table with two seats on each short end and the four of us talked and ate and laughed for about an hour. 

This was on my news feed today from the Washington Post. In case you can't access it, here are the first three paragraphs:

State and city leaders in the U.S. are responding to a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations by implementing new rules, scaling back on reopening plans and issuing dire warnings about the future of public health and the economy.

In lieu of a Florida statewide mask rule, several city mayors in Miami-Dade County are implementing their own mask requirements. Texas authorities temporarily suspended the alcohol permits of 12 bars for violating protocols designed to stem the crisis, as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said cases and hospitalizations there are increasing at an “unacceptable” rate. And in Utah, the state epidemiologist is warning that the state could be facing a “complete shutdown” if cases continue to rise.

Twenty-nine states and U.S. territories showed an increase in their seven-day average of new reported cases on Monday, with nine states reporting record average highs. In the states where cases are spiking the most, hospitalizations are also rising sharply. More than 2,290,000 cases and 118,000 deaths have been officially reported in the United States.

Tuesday, June 23 (Day 106):

Today, I returned the manuscript to my editor, with the last few small changes she asked me to make a little over a week ago. She wrote back a few hours later to say, "I think we have a final manuscript. Congratulations!"


If you're not a writer, you may not realize just how exciting this is. But if you're a writer, published or unpublished, you'll know how cool this is. Now they'll start to work on the cover, the design of the book, and even marketing! I have to turn in my acknowledgments and the dedication, and I have to fill out an extensive packet for the marketing department. This will keep me busy for at least a week!


Also today, the Washington Post published some graphs showing the recent rise in virus cases in the US.   Why did so many states reopen before they'd reached their peak? This map is particularly frightening (if you go to the link, it's interactive, but even without that you can see how much the surge is affecting the South:


Wednesday, June 24 (Day 107): 

Today, I had to go to the eye doctor. This may not seem important, but I have hereditary glaucoma, diagnosed last October, and I'm supposed to get the pressure in my eyes checked every six months. The appointment was originally scheduled for April and got postponed until today because of the pandemic.

I was a bit nervous, and my husband (my driver) had to wait in the car as I went in with my mask on. They've installed plexiglass shields around the check-in desk and every staff member wore a mask (thank goodness!). One thing I discovered: it's actually hard to hear people when they're wearing a mask, especially if they're soft-spoken. I kept apologizing to the kind woman who checked me in because I couldn't hear the questions she was asking me. They want to know how you feel, if you've been exposed to anyone with COVID-19, and if you've been out of the country in the last three weeks. I feel fine and the other answers were no, so I was asked to wait in the large waiting room. They've removed most of the chairs and spaced the others at least six feet apart.

How odd, though, that the table next to me still held magazines! As if I'm going to touch a magazine someone else could have touched! This virus is really changing the way people think and act.

The good news is my glaucoma is under control and the doctor said my cataract can wait a year to be removed. It's not that bad yet.

The joys of growing old...

This article was in today's New York Times. Finally! Justice for Ahmaud Arbery, killed while jogging in Georgia on February 23rd.

Ahmaud Arbery, from CBS news, family handout

Leftovers for dinner. 

Started watching "Self  Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker" on Netflix. It's compelling to watch, with excellent acting and superb writing . I've been a fan of Octavia Spencer since "The Help" in 2011 and "Hidden Figures" in 2016. She's fantastic in "Self Made"! Wish there were more than four episodes.

From Wikipedia and Netflix

Friday, June 26 (Day 109):

Remember Keisha N. Blain? I started following her on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Looking through her Twitter feed, I found an article she wrote in Ms Magazine about books written by women, to understand the uprisings. She includes brief reviews of each book.

I'm almost finished All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Have you read it? I'm impressed by the way these two authors take you deep into each of the main characters' lives to the point where they seem like real high school kids. Published in 2015, the book also brings the issue of police brutality to the forefront. Read this, especially is you liked The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Today, I sent in my acknowledgments to my editor! Now I really have to get cracking on that marketing packet...

Keeping this post short. Stay healthy everyone!

COVID-19 World Stats as of June 26 (from WHO): 

Confirmed cases: 9,633,898
Confirmed deaths: 490,494

US Cases as of June 26 (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 2,414,870
Confirmed deaths: 124, 325

Have you seen "Self Made" on Netflix? And have you started venturing out beyond your home and the grocery store?