Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview with Diane Mayr, author of Kids of the Homefront Army

Today I have a special guest, Diane Mayr, here to talk about her online poetry collection, Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II America.

Diane is a multi-talented author, with a varied career. Before we get into your poetry collection, you just received some exciting news about your Thanksgiving book, Run Turkey, Run?

Yes, that's right. Run, Turkey, Run! will be opening off Broadway as a musical in the fall of 2012. By "off Broadway" I mean way, way, way off--downtown Portsmouth, NH! It will be performed at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre A talented young man by the name of Miles Burns, is the director of the children's program there. He used my book as a starting point and wrote a script and a score. It should be a fun production! I'm sure to have more news closer to the opening, so stay tuned...

Can you tell us about Run, Turkey, Run?

I was a children's librarian from 1986 though 1997 (I'm now an adult services librarian/assistant director). Back then, there wasn't a whole lot available for the story hour crowd that I thought my preschoolers would understand. Books about thankfulness went over their heads. The same for books about pilgrims. I wanted something that would be fun, and that would allow little listeners to participate. Since I couldn't find the book I needed, I wrote it myself! Ask my critique group--during my children's librarian days, I wrote a lot of holiday books! Basically the story is very simple--turkey needs to hide from the farmer, so he looks for places right in the farmyard. When that doesn't work, he heads for the woods. The book has everything you need for a preschool audience--it's silly, it requires the listener to answer questions, it's repetitive, and it has a happy ending. The illustrations by Laura Rader are perfectly suited to the story.

(Here's a little something for beginning writers--if you believe in your work, continue to submit it. Run, Turkey, Run! was rejected more than 2 dozen times! I used to say to myself, “If I ever get it published, I could die happy.” I believed in the book. I knew it would be perfect for story hour. And I wanted to die happy, so I kept submitting it.)

Our readers might want to check out Diane’s Littlebat’s Halloween Story, too.

Diane, you also have a number of nonfiction books available on a range of topics from apples to money. I wondered how you balance writing fiction and nonfiction. Is your approach to each genre different? Which do you prefer?

At the risk of sounding flaky, I'll say that fiction is a gift. Sometimes it seems as if fiction and poetry come from someone I don't know--”Did I write that?” Nonfiction is more like work. But, since I love research, it's fun work. I definitely prefer fiction and poetry right now. Writing nonfiction releases my “timidity” demons--Will I be able to research as much as I think is necessary? What if I leave something out? What if I write something and someone says, “Hey, you got it all wrong!” How scary is that?

Of course, if you're writing historical fiction, you have to get the history right, too! But the pressure is more intense with nonfiction, and, as most of the nonfiction work is on assignment, there's the added pressure of guidelines and deadlines.
Diane eschewed print with her current project, Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II America. Instead, she is using new technology to revisit history and publishing this collection of WWII poetry as a blog. Diane, could you tell us a little about why you chose this medium?

The truth? I could no longer wait to be discovered by an editor who shared my vision.

Before I wrote the book, I was in contact with many people who were kids during the war years. Some of those I interviewed, or those who filled out questionnaires for me, have passed away. I felt like I was letting them down by not getting the work published. I wanted to tell their stories, and to repay the favor they did for me by sharing their stories.

I started on the project in 2001. I had planned on writing a simple nonfiction book about kids during WW II. I abandoned the project for a while, and then had an “aha!” moment in 2006 when I realized that the story I needed to tell had to be told through poems. Everything fell in place and I wrote like crazy--sort of like I was possessed. (I warned you about sounding flaky! Linda, I was glad to read your interview with Padma Venkatraman who also mentioned being possessed!) I tried to sell the book to trade publishers and a lovely local publisher, but I ended up thinking that the editors' visions weren't the same as mine. I decided to remain true to my vision for the book and that if I were to die happy, I'd have to do it on my own. So, being a fan of blogs (I have a number of them), I decided to post the book serially. I publish two poems a week, on Mondays and Fridays, at

Diane’s poems take on a variety of viewpoints. Some are written through the eyes of a child. For example, we hear young Eddy’s voice in A General. Can you share that poem with us and tell us a little of what inspired it?



I’ve been working real hard.
It’s nearly the end of the school year
and if I can earn a few more points,
I’ll get to be a one-star general!

Won’t Mom beam when she sees that!
She’ll say it was worth all those hours
helping me tie up bundles of papers
and crushing tin cans.

Grandpa will get tears in his eyes
when he sees my commission.
It was because he bought
so many savings stamps off me!

But I’ll be proudest of all!
Who cares if I got a D in 'rithmetic?
Or that teacher wrote on my report card,
"Eddie needs to pay attention."

No one will care
when I’m a general!

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

WW II was truly a shared experience. Everyone participated in the war in one way or another. For a kid, especially one who may not have excelled in other areas, there was the opportunity to make a contribution. That's the feeling I wanted to relay with Eddie.

All of the poems are from the point of view of a different child. They range in age from about 8 up through the teens.

In another poem, we hear Sylvie who is leaving school and heading to California to work. She’s bursting with anticipation. Can you tell us about that poem?

Again, as with Eddie, Sylvie was presented with the chance to do something out of the ordinary and to make a difference. There's a lot of hard work ahead of her, but there's also the romantic notion California. The Hollywood Canteen and all those boys await! For someone who may not have cared for school, the increased need for women workers was the perfect excuse for leaving and going to work.

Some of your poems speak of sacrifice and the sorrow of lives lost, but others show another side of war. I was particularly struck by Marguerite’s poem, When The Lights Go On Again… Can you tell our readers a little about it?

This poem was inspired by a memory that someone shared with me. This person, a teen during the war, was able to get a good job only because the normal labor force was employed in the armed services. He told me that at the end of the war, while others were celebrating, he was thinking about how his job would be gone shortly. It was the same for women workers who were expected to go back to being girlfriends, wives, and mothers once the men came home from war. When I came across the photo of a young black woman worker, the poem came together. Who would have a job once the war was over? Not Marguerite.

Kids of the Homefront Army is illustrated with marvelous photographs, posters, and ads from the 40’s. Where did you find all this wonderful material? Did the photos spark the poems or did you start with the poems and hunt for photos to illustrate them?

Ebay! I started collecting WW II memorabilia, postcards, magazines, etc. almost as soon as I started thinking about the project in 2001. As for the photographs, most are from the Office of War Information collection of the Library of Congress. We are so lucky to have the Library of Congress make these materials available online. Great sources for the ubiquitous governmental posters are the online collections of the University of Maryland and Northwestern University Library. The internet is truly a wonder!

Many of the poems were inspired by the photos. Others were written based on stories I was told, and then, I would search out photos to illustrate them.

It's amazing to me how much I didn't know about the early 1940s before I started researching the WW II homefront. The photographs provide a visual for today's kids who are unfamiliar with the social life during the war.

Things that kids take for granted today didn't exist back then. Shortages made life more difficult. Imagine life without rubber for the elastic in your underwear! (I've got a poem coming up on that topic!) Or being limited in the number of pairs of shoes you could purchase. Or imagine writing letters! How many kids today write letters outside of school assignments? It was a different world.

When did you begin Homefront Army? How long do you think your blog will run?

I wrote 80 or so poems in 2006, but I'm still adding new ones as I go along. I started posting in June of this year. I post about 8 a month. There are now about 90 poems, so, it will be nearly a year before they're all on the site.

Do you have any ideas for future blog projects?

Not at this point, although I started a book of poems about the great New England Hurricane of September 1938. I won't finish it because it is too depressing--so much death and destruction occurred. In 1938 there was no FEMA to help people recover and rebuild.

I'm using a Facebook page to augment the Kids of the Homefront Army blog: . On the page I add related videos and links. Social media is a handy tool!

Are you working on any projects for traditional media?

No. What I'm working on most often is haiga (illustrated haiku and other short form poems). Some I post on my blog,, some are published in online haiku journals such as Notes from the Gean

Thanks so much for stopping by! We enjoyed hearing more about Diane Mayr’s work and about Kids of the Homefront Army.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak to your readers, Linda, I hope they will visit Kids of the Homefront Army, share it with others!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Game

In honor of my upcoming guest, poet Diane Mayr, I thought I'd share this holiday poem with you:

Thanksgiving Game
By Linda Crotta Brennan

Whap! He whales the whiffle ball into the neighbor’s bushes
And runs wrong-way round invisible bases.
His thin body, stretched by a recent growth spurt
Can’t contain the life in his swinging arms and pumping legs.
Just before first base, he swerves,
Pouncing on the lounging golden retriever.
Boy and dog wriggle, wrestle, roll in the grass,
Then the boy pops up and continues his counterclockwise circuit.
Home run!

Diane Mayr will be stopping by on December 1, when she'll be talking about her online poetry collection: Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Padma Venkatraman's Island's End

Today I’d like to welcome Padma Venkatraman, author of the award-winning novel, Climbing the Stairs. She’s here today to discuss her new book, Island’s End. Thank you for joining us, Padma!

I’m fascinated by your far-ranging physical and spiritual journeys. You weren’t originally a writer. In fact, at nineteen, your passion for mathematics and science led you to leave your native India to pursue a graduate degree in Oceanography in the United States.

As an oceanographer, you conducted research on crocodiles in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the coast of India. Your contact with the tribal people of these islands inspired Island’s End. Can you tell us about your stay on these remote islands and the people you met there? (The photos on this blog are from Padma's trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.)
Living on the Islands was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. Life had a different pace there - it felt calmer - and when I lived there in a tiny little cottage near the rainforest with next to no possessions, I felt far more satisfied than I imagined I could be. I loved the simplicity and warmth of the people I met while I was there.

Though you were a scientist, you always had a great love of literature. Your first books were nonfiction, biographies of women mathematicians and scientists. You also wrote folktales and eventually you evolved to writing novels. Could you tell us about your transformation from scientist to writer?
My love of words was and is far deeper than my love of numbers (though I do love that world as well). But at first, writing was a sort of hobby to me - something I enjoyed doing in my sparetime. And I don't consider anything that was published before my debut novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS, appeared to be examples of me as a writer. I only took myself seriously as a "writer" during and after CLIMBING THE STAIRS appeared - and the novel is of a far higher standard (in my opinion) than any piece I did before it -I call it my first book because it feels like my first real work as a writer - what I did before seems like play, and just not comparable with my novels - which reflect the real writer me. And now that ISLAND'S END is here, I know for sure, I'll always see myself as a writer. Science fulfilled my intellect alone, writing fulfills me more deeply and completely.

You were the only woman on the research team to the Andaman Islands, and both your novels have featured strong female heroines. Do you feel a kinship between Vidya in Climbing the Stairs and Uido in Island’s End? Do you see echoes of these girls in your own life?
Undoubtedly, my experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field enter my writing. When I was writing ISLAND'S END, I was going through a lot of self-doubt about my writing abilities - and I think Uido's initial concerns might reflect my own lack of confidence. Then again, I wrote ISLAND'S END because I felt like I was hearing a voice that was telling me her story - an almost surreal experience - so sometimes I feel like "the voice" wrote the story - that it doesn't really "belong" to me - though it was through me that the story was written. I love the process of writing - especially this "hearing voices" thing. Sometime I think writers are schizophrenics who shut themselves up with a computer when they hear voices...

In some ways, Uido is the opposite of a scientist. As a shaman-to-be, she learns through dreams and spirit guides. What do you see as the relationship between science and spirit? How have these two ways of viewing the world informed your writing?
My time on the ISLANDS opened up my mind - and expanded my world view - and taught me to respect and give credence to ideas/experiences/cultures that existed beyond the mind-set and framework of science. I think I've inherited, from the Hindu tradition, a sense of spirituality that embraces and respects all paths to the higher goal of living a better life and being a better person. Spirituality and philosophy interest me - and I have a sort of scientific curiosity about different ideas of spiritual truth and reality. My scientific training also gave me the gifts of questioning and rewriting. My characters often embody questions that interest me - and as I rewrite I ask my characters lots of questions so I feel like I deeply know them - questioning helps me occupy their emotional space.

Can you tell us about your process in writing Island’s End?
Writing ISLAND'S END was different from writing my first novel - in part because I had a child (who took up a lot of my time and energy, so "real life" often intervened and it was a challenging to find the time and mental space to live inside Uido and her world). But then again, writing it felt magical, because I had the incredible feeling like I could hear the voice - a voice that sort of possessed me - in a marvelous and refreshing sort of way.

You’ve already begun another novel. Could you tell us a little about it?
My third novel, tentatively titled A TIME TO DANCE, is inspired by someone I knew - a dancer who overcame physical disability to excel at what she loved most. I'm working on it with my wonderful editor Nancy Paulsen (who also helped ISLAND'S END come alive) - and the novel will appear on her list (Nancy Paulsen Books).

Do you have any final words for our readers?
I fell in love with the process of writing as I wrote my two novels - so that's when I started to consider myself a writer. To me, equating publication with being a writer is as silly as confusing marriage with true love. Just as marriage isn't necessary for true love to exist - publication isn't a necessity for a writer. Publication - and everything that goes along with it, like acclaim and awards are a wonderful gift for a writer - but shouldn't be any writer's end goal. A writer's goal should be to remain eternally in love with the writing process.

I'd love to invite your readers to stop by my website - and to download the virtual lesson plan I created and the fabulous discussion guide my publisher Penguin created. Even if they aren't thinking of using ISLAND's END in a classroom or book club setting, I think some of the exercises are fun - my favorite is one that I did because a teacher who read my book pointed this out to me. Uido, Lah-ame, Danna and Ashu - were, in my head, associated with water, air, earth and fire - and interestingly, the language I ended up using (metaphors, verbs etc) to bring alive each of these characters keeps the association with these 4 "elements" - a really interesting aspect of pattern in the novel that I enjoyed (re-)discovering! Thanks again, Linda, for inviting me to be on your blog!
Thanks so much for stopping by! I know our readers will enjoy Island’s End.

ISLAND'S END (my 2nd bk) trailer:
* "consistently engrosses...refreshingly hopeful and beautifully written"
- Starred review KIRKUS
* "a lovely novel...offering an enticing blend of mystic tradition and imaginative speculation"
- Starred review PW
* "Vividly written and expertly paced ...a moving story that will stay with readers long after the end"
- Starred review SLJ
* "succeeds intricate yet wholly accessible story"
-Starred review BOOKLIST
Dr. Padma Venkatraman's author website with free downloadable resources:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Poetry Challenge and Padma Interview

Today I completed my poetry challenge, writing a poem a day for a month. I can't say I came up with anything extraordinary, but I enlarged my knowledge of language and how it can be used to specific effect. I became more attentive to the world around me. I plan to keep up this practice of poetry, with the help of a book recommended by Kim Newton Fusco, In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit.

Here is one of my better poetic attempts:

Zucchini like zeppelins
My table sags under their weight.
We slice them,
Stuff them,
Grate them,
Bake them.
Zucchini breads,
Zucchini cakes,
Zucchini pies,
Until the vine shrivels up and dies.

While I'm continuing my poetry, I'm going to have to take a break from blogging due to a writing assignment. But before I go into writer's hibernation, I have one more author interview to share with you. On November 16th, I'll be talking with Padma Venkatraman about her latest book, Island's End. Hope you can stop by!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Picture Books in Peril

I recently read Roger Sutton’s editorial in Horn Book about how the picture book is in trouble. Sales are down. Parents are shunning picture books and reading chapter books to their preschoolers instead. Sutton believes that “there is a disconnection between what is in our hearts and what we are publishing for children.” I wonder if part of the problem is the demise of the picture story book. When I started in this business twenty plus years ago, the average length of a picture book was 1200 words. And it was common to have picture books of over 1500 words. But current editorial wisdom says that families with two working parents are too busy to read such lengthy books. The cut-off for picture book manuscripts keeps getting shorter and shorter. Jennifer Laughran, agent at Andrea Brown Literary recently wrote on her blog that 300-550 words is the “sweet spot” for picture books. She advises her clients not to submit books over 800 words. Now talented writers have been able to create incredible works of art within these tight constraints. But some stories need more elbow room. And while 300-550 word stories may be fine for the three year old, many that are being published today don’t have the depth to hold up to hundreds of readings by a five or six year old. I imagine parents in these tough economic times flipping through a book with a dozen words per page and wondering if it’s worth $16.99. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the picture story book. In a culture that is so visually oriented, wouldn’t it be wonderful to create longer, richer texts with luxurious illustrations that can bridge the gap between the short picture book and the chapter book. As for those busy parents, surely if they have time to read a chapter to their preschoolers, they’ll find time to read a 1200 word picture story book.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Greg Fishbone's Galaxy Games Tour

Welcome, Greg. Thanks for dropping by my blog on your whirlwind tour!
Greg’s latest book, Galaxy Games: The Challengers, is a madcap space adventure, starring Tyler Sato, his Tokyo cousins, and the tentacled captain of the Mrendarian team, M’Frozza. I happen to know at least one kid who will absolutely love this book. Happy Birthday, Daniel! (And belated birthday to Hannah!) And now, Greg, could you tell our readers a little about the book and what inspired you to write it?
Sure, Linda. The book is about how Earth gets invited to field a team in a sports tournament against kids from all over the galaxy. The main character, Tyler Sato, is a boy who gets a star named after him on his 11th birthday--except that it’s not really a star. At first, it seems to be an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and then it turns out to be an alien spaceship! The cool part is that I get to put together a team of kids from all over the world to represent the entire planet. You spent some time in Japan, could you tell us a little about that? How did your experiences there feed into this book? I lived in Japan during an interesting time. There was a major earthquake in Osaka as well as a doomsday cult that released a batch of nerve gas on the subway in Tokyo! When I was first plotting a story where the characters thought the world was about to end, I couldn’t help thinking first of my experiences in Japan. Where did you get the idea for the young Mrendarian girl, M’Frozza? Will you tell us how she became her planet’s captain in one of your future books? M’Frozza is a fun character to write because she’s so proactive. She’s been groomed from birth to lead her team in the Galaxy Games--so there’s not really a story about how that happened--but suddenly she found herself unable to bring her team to the tournament. She could have moped around more but instead she found a way to avoid dishonor and really kick-started the entire series in the process. M’Frozza and Tyler assembled an Earth team for the galaxy games comprised of kids from around the world. Can you tell us a little about each of them? Do you see yourself in any of your characters? In the first book we have a luchador named El Gatito from Mexico, who wears a blue cat-shaped mask to hide his identity even from other members of the team. We also have a soccer player named Felix from Germany, whose previous experience has been mainly as a team mascot. There’s another soccer player from Brazil, named Weez, who’s a total conspiracy buff and believes that aliens abducted his younger brother. There’s a Chinese gymnast named Ling-Wa who gives up everything to join the team, and a Japanese judo champion named Tomoko that we get to know pretty well throughout the book because she’s a friend of Tyler’s cousin in Tokyo. There will be additional characters from other countries that we’ll get to meet in future books. I don’t know that I see myself in all of them, but there are probably bits and pieces of me in there somewhere. Personally, I identify most with Tyler. You seemed to have a lot of fun writing this—giving free rein to all the wacky turns of your zany imagination. What was the most enjoyable part of writing this book? Were some parts more of a slog? I spent a lot of time editing and revising this book to get it just right. That could have been a slog but it was actually a lot of fun as well, coming up with little ways to make things better and better. Do you have any advice for folks who’d like to write a series of their own? Some of the last changes I made in The Challengers were meant to provide hooks into future books in the series, and I nearly painted myself into a corner when it came time to pick up those hooks and run with them in the second book. My advice would be to do your advance planning as well as you can but feel free to pitch the plans out the window if you come up with something even better.
I’m cackling now as I think of what’s coming up in Book #2. :D Thanks so much for stopping by! To find out more about Greg and his books, go to his website at and the Galaxy Games series site at And for all our treasure hunting readers, here is the next clue in the Galaxy Game!
--- Greg R. Fishbone, Author - - Twitter @tem2 The Challengers - Book #1 in the Galaxy Games Series Follow the Galaxy Games Blog Tour, all October long!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poem a Day

Inspired by my interview with Kim Newton Fusco, I have committed to writing a poem a day for a month. If I succeed, I may even go longer. (Jane Yolen has been writing a poem a day for over a year!) Why? I hope to learn how to put words together in an effective way. I hope to learn how to capture the emotion of a moment. I hope to learn how to truly see. I'm using Cindy Rogers' book, Word Magic for Writers to guide me through a Greek welter of rhetorical techniques--alliteration and onomatopeoia, polysyndeton and asyndeton, anaphora and epistrophe. So far, none of these poems has been fit for publication. But I'm exercising my writing muscles, building verbal strength and flexibility. If anyone of you has made a similar commitment, I'd love to hear from you. I'd also like to know of other books to help me hone my poetic skills. And just a reminder, Greg Fishbone will be dropping by on October 28 to talk about his latest book, Galaxy Games: The Challenges. I'm also delighted to announce that Padma Venkatraman has agreed to come and discuss her latest title, Island's End. I'll have a date for that visit soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview with Kim Newton Fusco

Kim Newton Fusco's first novel, Tending to Grace, won the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award. According to Booklist's review, “Like Katherine Paterson’s classic The Great Gilly Hopkins…this quiet, beautiful first novel makes the search for home a searing drama.” The Wonder of Charlie Anne is Kim's latest title, and according to Kirkus, “Fusco’s mellifluous style often sounds like singing: “Go do this, the new mama tells me, and I do it, just because.” When the story opens, 11-year-old Charlie Anne is furious that her papa and older brother are leaving to find work. It’s the Great Depression and times are tough and Charlie Anne, who has a supernatural way of interacting with the world (her recently buried mother, the river, the molasses-eyed cows and even the clothesline) is stuck at home with her siblings and the overbearing, much-older cousin Mirabel, who insists on ladylike behavior and “The Charm of Fine Manners.” But things begin to brighten for Charlie Anne when new neighbors move in — a white woman (who wears red pepper red pants) and her African-American adopted daughter, Phoebe. Two conflicts loom largest: dyslexic Charlie Anne’s battle with “jumbled letters” and her controversial friendship with Phoebe, which stirs up the town’s “backwater” hatred. “We’ll just see about that!” becomes Charlie Anne’s battle cry. Welcome, Kim! It's a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell our readers what drove you to write The Wonder of Charlie Anne? I wanted to write something hopeful because I was very discouraged. I had published Tending to Grace and it had done very well, but the years were passing. I had one novel sitting on my editor’s desk in NYC, but, despite two revisions, it wasn’t going anywhere. I started getting up at 5 a.m. and working on another novel as a way to get a positive start on my day before getting my children off to school. That draft was a study in sheer determination. Then spring came and the snow melted and I started hiking along the brook that ran behind my house and I got to thinking about a little girl who lived across the road from my grandparents' farm in Maine. She had a pony, which I wanted to ride very badly, but she had to watch her little brother and do chores from morning until night (or so it seemed to me). I thought a lot about all those chores and I knew how I would have acted: I would have REBELLED. That’s when I heard Charlie Anne's voice for the first time, and I scrapped that other draft because Charlie Anne's voice was so powerful and strong. She was a spirited, tough little nut. There was no looking back. Charlie Anne’s voice is so memorable. I loved listening to her speak. Her voice was lyrical, yet she always sounded like a child. How did you work such a miracle? Thank you. When I heard her voice in my head I was so excited I ran to my computer and let her talk and start telling her story in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. Each day when I sat down to write I would reread one of the early chapters, like the first chapter or the one about her cow, Belle, getting stuck in the brier patch. Sometimes I would retype whole sections of her feisty voice so I could absorb it and keep going. You are also a poet. Does your poetry feed your prose? I read a lot of poetry for inspiration and I write poetry to improve my prose. I find that writing a poem is a wonderful way to delve deeply into my character’s emotions. The first page of The Wonder of Charlie Anne began as a poem. Most of the chapters in Tending to Grace began as poems and then I rewrote them into prose. That’s one of the reasons the chapters are so short. One example comes from the first page. I could have written that my main character, Cornelia, had a really rotten life. But when I wrote a poem about what it feels like to have a hard life, this is what came out: “I want to jump out of the car as it rushes along and wrap myself in a row of sheets hanging so low their feet tap the grass. I want to hide because my life, if it were a clothesline, would be the one with a sweater dangling by one sleeve, a blanket dragging in the mud, and a sock, unpaired and alone, tumbling to the road with the wind at its heel.” The river, Charlie Anne’s dead mother, the cow Anna May, and even the fence talk to Charlie Anne. This feels totally reasonable from Charlie Anne’s POV as the anthropomorphizing of a child. Yet it is more than that. It is real. Charlie Anne’s dead mother alerts her when Phoebe is hurt and leads Charlie Anne to her friend. Can you talk a little about this aspect of the book? When I was writing I was Charlie Anne and in order to make the supernatural parts of the book believable I absolutely knew they were happening. Charlie Anne is talking to her mama and her mama is talking to her. I know no other way to approach a book. Phoebe is African-American and one of the strands of your book is how Phoebe is treated when she arrives in this all-white northern town. As a white writer, how did you approach this issue? I approached this as Charlie Anne would. She has an interesting and very smart girl her own age move in across the road. They have a great deal in common. They see their differences, and misstep many times, but ultimately learn to concentrate on their similarities. One of the themes of the book is when Charlie Anne tells the townspeople, “You can’t love somebody if you don’t know somebody.” She’s talking about empathy, about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins, about how once we really get to know somebody, walls that separate us start crashing down. The book is set during the depression. Could yet tell us a little about your research for the book? I read a lot of history. I scrolled through Library of Congress archives and listened to audio stories of the Great Depression. I love reading old cookbooks and sifting through old recipes. I think they are a window to another time. I found Dorothea Lange photos of girls from the 1930s who looked like my idea of Charlie Anne and Phoebe. I pasted these to the top of my manuscript so I could look at them every day. Here they are:
As a former journalist, I know that the difference between a great story and a lousy one is research, and that the very best research usually comes from a great interview. I was thrilled when two women who attended a one-room schoolhouse in Rehoboth, MA, sat down with me and talked about life during the Great Depression. Where else could I have found the “standing in the trash bucket” punishment? Your first book, Tending to Grace, won the American Library Association's Schneider Family Book Award. Could you tell us a bit about this book? How did the experience of writing it compare to writing The Wonder of Charlie Anne? I wrote Tending to Grace after I met my editor, Michelle Frey of Knopf/Random House, at an SCBWI conference. I had submitted ten pages of a different novel and she told me that I had written a plot-driven novel, and that Knopf only publishes character-driven novels. “But I think you could write the kind of literary novel we publish. So if you go home and try again, I’ll take another look.” I don’t think my feet touched the ground for the next month. Then I started wondering, how exactly am I going to do this? I knew a character-driven novel features a protagonist who changes internally, and I was rather surprised I hadn’t accomplished this on my first try, but when I reread it, I knew Michelle was right. After a while I realized that if I had any hope of writing a character-driven novel, I needed a character that faced adversity and changed because of it. And then it hit me: I knew something about that! And that’s when I decided to write about stuttering, which is something I battled as a child. I remember the moment I walked over to my computer and closed my file that held that old novel, opened a new file, and started over. It took a lot of courage to write each day because I was writing about something I had tried to keep hidden. A lot of the things that happened to Cornelia in school happened to me. And then one day I wrote a scene where her Aunt Agatha says: “You know what I say? I say that when you got a voice, you damn well better tell the world who you are. Or somebody else will.” I realized that was exactly what I was doing by writing, and I better keep going. It paid off, because three months after I mailed the completed manuscript off to NYC, Michelle Frey called and offered me a contract and she’s been my editor since. Are you working on any other books? Could you tell us a bit about them? Yes, my next novel is scheduled for publication in 2013. The idea came from a little girl I met while I was writing about a carnival back in my reporter days. Do you have any final thoughts for our readers? Many people have asked for the recipe for vinegar pie. I found this one during my research. If you close your eyes, a “hard times vinegar pie” really does taste a lot like lemon. VINEGAR PIE 1/2 c. butter, softened 1 1/4 c. sugar 3 eggs 2 tbsp. cider vinegar 1 tsp. vanilla 1 (8-inch) unbaked pie shell Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean. To find out more about Kim and her books, visit her website at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overcoming Challenges

This past weekend I attended “Overcoming Challenges,” an event sponsored by SCBWI New England at the Danforth Museum of Art The speakers included two Newbery medalists, Lois Lowry Kathryn Lasky, plus acclaimed author Jacqueline Davis and award-winning illustrator Bill Thompson Unlike most conferences, where each speaker has an hour on stage, this event had a panel format, and our faculty spent four hours discussing their life and work. Moderator, Melissa Stewart asked probing questions. What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career? In your writing? How do you know when a book is done? What is your definition of success? At first, they were rather stiff and formal, reading prepared speeches. But as the day unfolded, an intimacy grew between speakers and audience. I stopped taking notes and leaned forward to listen as the speakers shared the stories behind their stories. Here is just a sampling: Kathryn Lasky is trying to force her way past a barrier of silence to tell the story of gypsy children from concentration camps who were filmed during WWII. Early in his career, Bill Thompson took on an illustration assignment for a book he wasn’t particularly excited about, until he envisioned his subject from a whole new angle, looking up from a child’s perspective. Lois Lowry decided to write a book about the boy in one of her aunt’s photographs and then realized her character couldn’t speak. The book became The Silent Boy. Jackie Davis took ten years to discover what she was writing about in her book, Lost. After it was published, she was faced with her own grief. She reread the book to glean the wisdom of her former self. Thanks to Bill, Lois, Jackie and Kathryn for their generosity in sharing these stories, and to Melissa for gathering together such a stellar faculty. Please stop by next Tuesday, October 11, when I’ll be interviewing award-winning author Kim Newton Fusco about her book, The Wonder of Charlie Anne.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Galaxy Games Tour Launches

Galaxy Games: The ChallengersCelebrate the release of The Challengers by Greg R. Fishbone! This is the first book of the Galaxy Games series, published by the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books. In this hilarious middle-grade romp through space, eleven-year-old Tyler Sato leads a team of kids representing all of Earth in a sports tournament against alien kids from across the galaxy.

Great Galactic Blog Tour

Join Greg during the month of October for the Great Galactic Blog Tour! Every day for 31 days, Greg will spotlight a different children's literature blog with book giveaways, author interviews, in-character interviews, excerpts, deleted scenes, and more. Happening right now is the Launch Day Giveaway. There are lots of ways to enter!

Puzzle Piece #1

The site of the day will also feature one of 31 "puzzle pieces" that will lead one reader to a grand prize. Here is the first piece in the contest:

Galaxy Games: The Challengers

Book Info

  • Series: Galaxy Games
  • Title: The Challengers
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-60060-660-1
  • Author: Greg R. Fishbone
  • Illustrator: Ethen Beavers
  • Publisher: Tu Books / Lee & Low Books
  • Ages: 9-12

The Challengers is available now from online and offline booksellers and as an ebook. Read more about the Galaxy Games series and be sure to follow the Blog Tour!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau is the author of Snowbaby Could Not Sleep, illustrated by Jim Ishikawa; the Rocko and Spanky stories, illustrated by Jenna LaReau; and Ugly Fish, Rabbit and Squirrel, and OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars, illustrated by Scott Magoon. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. She worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and Scholastic Press. She also did freelance editing through her creative consulting firm, Bluebird Works.
Welcome,to my blog, Kara! Thanks, Linda! Great to be here! I’ve just finished reading your newest picture book, OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars to my grandson. His response? “That was a funny book. Let’s read it again!” (Of course I did!) Can you tell us a little about the book and what inspired it? I’m glad your grandson liked it. OTTO is the story of a boy who loves cars so much, he turns into one! As he spends time as a car, he realizes how limiting it is, and how much he misses all the things he can do as a boy. The story was inspired by my husband, who is a car fanatic — but maybe a little less fanatical than Otto! It was illustrated by Scott Magoon. He’s done some of your other titles, as well. Can you talk about his illustrations for Otto and what it’s like working with him? Scott and I were friends and colleagues (we met when we were both working at Candlewick Press) before we ever started working together on our own books, so we already knew we liked each other and shared the same sense of humor. Now we get to harness all of that great creative energy! I find I write many of my picture book texts with Scott in mind now; for instance, when I mentioned that Otto’s favorite cereal would be “Wheelies” (a play on Wheaties), Scott went ahead and included all sorts of other funny car-related paraphernalia (or as we call it, car-aphernalia) throughout the book, to give kids something extra to notice as they read. You’ll see that Otto’s teacher, Mrs. Dodge, has a hairdo that looks a lot like the Dodge Ram logo, and one of the book spines on Otto’s shelf reads “Karfka,” a play on Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Both of those were ideas Scott came up with on his own; the more I get to know how his mind works, the more I try to leave room in the story for him to play. We’re lucky we share the same sensibility (and love of bad puns); I think that energy really shines through. Your sister, Jenna LaReau, has also illustrated some of your books. How did your collaboration process work? When Jenna and I were making books together, were living together, so we were sharing much more than just creative sensibility! It’s a pleasure making books with Jenna, because we have a lifetime of common history, and we trust each other implicitly. Often, she’d come up with an idea for a visual, and I’d say, “You know, if I changed the text just a bit, it would allow you to make that image even funnier.” And of course, the reverse of the scenario happened just as often. We play off of each other, which enriches our creative efforts — and makes them a lot more fun! You began your career in children’s books as an editor at Candlewick Press. You’ve also worked at Scholastic and been a freelance editor with your own company, Bluebird Works. Can you discuss your career as an editor? I acquired and edited children’s books for more than ten years, and then spent a bit of time editing on my own. It was an incredibly gratifying experience, and it allowed me to work with brilliant authors and illustrators and make extraordinary books. I’m so thankful to have had that opportunity. You recently made a life-changing decision. Can you tell us about that? I’ve decided to retire from editing and focus on my own writing full-time. It was a difficult decision to make, since I love editing so much, but it feels right for me. As an author, do you usually work alone or with the help of a critique group or first readers? When I first draft something, I keep it to myself; I just need that time to be alone with the work and figure out what I want it to be. But once I have that first draft under my belt, I share it with a couple of people close to me; I call them my Trusted Readers. I know they have my best interests in mind, and they have great imaginations and are innovative thinkers, so they always give me constructive and inspiring feedback. Some writers feel more comfortable in a larger writing group environment; so far, I’ve preferred a more intimate dynamic. Would you like to share something about your current work in progress? I have a new picture book coming out at the end of the year called Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story, about a socially-maladjusted porcupine. And in 2013 I have a picture book about table manners coming out with Disney. In the meantime, I’ve been writing for an older audience. My most current work-in-progress is a middle grade novel about summer camp. I’ve just finished my first round of revision, and I’m waiting to hear from my Trusted Readers (fingers crossed)! Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers? Thanks so much for your interest in me and my work! Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sense of Place

I savor a book with a deep sense of place, one that can transport me through time and space. When I discover one of my writing students comes from far away, I sit up with anticipation, looking forward to where they can take me. Often I am disappointed. For the student’s home ground is so familiar to them that they cease to see it. Instead that village in the Philippines or that city on the coast of Brazil has faded to a blank backdrop for the student’s stories. A tourist can be more aware of what makes a place unique than a resident of that place. As writers we need to learn to see our home place with a tourist’s fresh eyes. Don't forget, next week, picture book author Kara LaReau will be a guest on my blog.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Author Schedule

Some wonderful authors will be dropping by my blog this fall. Here is the schedule of events. Drum roll please! September 27: Kara LaReau the author of Snowbaby Could Not Sleep, illustrated by Jim Ishikawa; the Rocko and Spanky stories, illustrated by Jenna LaReau; and Ugly Fish, Rabbit and Squirrel, and OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars, illustrated by Scott Magoon.
October 11: Kim Fusco http:// author of Tending to Grace and The Wonder of Charlie Anne. October 28: Greg Fishbone http://www. author of Penguins of Doom and the Galaxy Games series.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Animated Cars, Galaxy Games, and Wonder

I'm excited to announce that I'll be hosting a number of children's authors in the coming weeks. This is my line-up so far:
Kara LaReau, author of a number of picture books including OTTO, THE BOY WHO LOVED CARS
Kim Newton Fusco, author of the middle grade novel, THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE
Greg Fishbone, author of the new GALAXY GAMES series, who will be stopping by on his web tour.
I'll have dates and further information soon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Robin Hood Found Guilty!

100 years ago today, Richard Packard, bookkeeper for Harris Brothers & Bartlett, was found guilty of embezzling over $6,000. He gave all the money to the poor. He told the judge that he just wanted to be known as a "good fellow."

I found this gem in the Library of Congress' digital historical newspapers,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New book is born!

As a proud mama, I want to announce the publication of my newest book, History Digs: The Birth of the United States. You can find out more about it, and purchase a copy at
Here's the cover and a peek inside:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reason for Being

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been ripping out one of my novel's plot strands, redesigning it,and knitting it back in again. It can be a painstaking process.
I was stymied by one particular scene. I had moved the setting back in time, and Jane, my main character, was learning how to bake biscuits in an old fireplace. I'd done my research, and managed to get in the steps involved without overwhelming the reader with information and bogging down the pacing. But something was missing. What on earth was it?
I was reading an article in the SCBWI Bulletin about putting emotion into illustrations when I realized that was what was lacking. The scene wasn't about Jane baking biscuits, it was about how Jane felt baking those biscuits. My scene finally had a reason for being.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Revision Routes

Long time, no post. But I have been busy.
I’ve been using Anita Nolan’s book mapping strategy ( to get a visual picture of my novel.
I discovered a weak subplot and set about revising to make it stronger. Of course, changing one part of a novel always affects another section…

I’d love to hear from anyone about strategies they use in revision.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ladies of the Rolling Pin

So Morris Dancers don't just bludgeon each other with clubs, they sometimes dust their victims with flour!
Spent a lovely day at the Lilac Festival at Arnold Arboretum watching the Ladies of the Rolling Pin

Second Sight

I've been reading Cheryl Klein's ( book, Second Sight: An Editor Talks on Writing and Revising and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults very slowly. It has so many gems, I need to sift through carefully to make sure I catch them all.
One of her unique suggestions is to list five roles (daughter, friend, worker, etc.) that your character has in declining order of their importance to him/her at the beginning and end of the book. It made me think of my MC's story journey in a whole new way.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Notable Women

After writing bios for four books in the American Notable Women series, I've been thinking about what makes a woman notable. Is it because she is the first of her sex to accomplish something? Is it because she's done something to make life better for others?
And what drives a woman to excel in a culture that downgrades her abilities?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cusp of Seasons Haiku

The purple crocus
purses its lips against the snow
refusing winter
---Linda Crotta Brennan

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Housework for Writer's Block

Most people say they hate housework. I used to hate it too. But I've realized that it's rhythmic mindless can clear and release the mind. When I hit a block in my writing, I read the problem section over, then get up and start cleaning. Usually, by the time a room is half-done, I'm running back to my computer with a solution.
Rabia of Basra (717-801) said it much more poetically:
It helps
putting my hands on a pot, on a broom,
in a wash
tried painting
but it was easier to fly slicing

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Poetic Prose

I love poetic prose, whether it's in a lyrical picture book or a YA novel. But it's hard to do without having the author's voice intrude, without sounding too "writerly."
Two authors, whose books I've read recently, have been able to pull it off beautifully. Both women are also poets.
Kim Fusco in The Wonder of Charlie Ann and
Pat Lowery Collins in Daughter of Winter.
Both books are historical novels, and I wonder if readers are more accepting of poetic language in the mouth of of a historical character. Daughter of Winter is written in third person, and I do think poetic prose is easier to carry off in third person.
But The Wonder of Charlie Ann is written in first person. Yet Charlie always sounds like a kid. The reader always believes in her voice. Remarkable!
I need to exercise, flex my own poetic voice--and not be so afraid of it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Leftovers Recycled

Writing a book like When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story has made me hyper-sensitive to environmental issues. Americans throw so much food away. Wouldn't it be valuable to come up with new ways to recycle leftovers?
So here's my contribution:
Take leftover rice. Add brown sugar, raisins, milk, and a touch of cinnamon. Heat it in the microwave for 45 seconds.
Presto, delicious breakfast!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New book!

Despite my best intentions, it's been a while since I posted on my blog. That's because I've been busy writing--a good excuse, I'd say.
I just finished a new book on the Revolutionary War--History Digs: Revolution and the New Nation (Cherry Lake Publishing).
I've also been working on biographies for Women of the Ocean State: 25 Rhode Island Women You Should Know. Princess Red Wing is my next lady. She was a dynamic spokesperson for her people, the Wampanoag and Narragansetts.