Friday, November 30, 2012

Lynda Mullaly Hunt Interview: One for the Murphy's

Today we welcome Lynda Mullaly Hunt,
debut author of the moving novel, One for the Murphy’s (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin 2012)

In the wake of heart-breaking betrayal, Carley Connors is thrust into foster care and left on the steps of the Murphys, a happy, bustling family.

Carley has thick walls and isn’t rattled easily, but this is a world she just doesn’t understand. A world that frightens her. So, she resists this side of life she’d believed did not exist with dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom.

However, with the help of her Broadway-obsessed and unpredictable friend, Toni, the Murphys do the impossible in showing Carley what it feels like to belong somewhere. But, when her mother wants her back, will she lose the only family that she has ever known?

You can view her book trailer here:

1. Is it true that the idea for this book actually pulled you away from washing dishes? Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for the book, and the path the book took as you developed it? Were there false starts and revisions along the way or did it pour out seamlessly?

I was actually working on what will probably end up being my third book. I stopped writing it to begin Murphys. My exasperated writing partners couldn’t understand why I would jump from a book that had some editor interest to write this one. I finally told them that it was the book I was afraid to write and so I thought it time that I just do it.

Once it started, it poured out (Although all of the chapters were written out of order!). Although my editor, Nancy Paulsen, asked me to significantly cut the word count, and then deepen the characters of Mr. Murphy and Toni, the book was published pretty close to its original form. (Although, those are big changes huh? )

As far as inspiration, many things came together to create a book about a self-protective kid in foster care.

The first piece was that I lived with another family for a few months when I was young. Staying with that big, bustling clan gave me a close look at a kind of life I had not been familiar with—but the kind of life I knew I wanted when I got older. The first night I was there, I leaned forward and stared down the center of the dinner table. I heard myself say, “So, this is what it’s supposed to look like.” The time in that home changed my view on what my life could hold. And all of its possibilities…

Also, only months before starting One for the Murphys, I’d seen the Broadway show, “Wicked”, and was struck by several elements in the storytelling. First off, the writing and music are incredible! I thought a lot about the idea of “Defying Gravity” since I’ve had my share of doing that. I played the Wicked soundtrack while writing a good chunk of the book which is surprising, as I usually cannot write while listening to music with lyrics. However, it seemed to propel the story forward.

Following this trip to see, “Wicked,” I had a conversation with my nine-year-old son about Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and how, in one sense, he wanted to have Darth Vader be his father, yet also wished it away. I began to think about what that would be like. To long for something and wish it away at the same time.

And then, yes, Linda…about two weeks later, while rinsing a plate at the kitchen sink, I heard Carley speak the first line in my head. I “tore myself away” from the dishes to write the first chapter of what would become One for the Murphys. Once that was done, I just had to finish it—like having a sliver in my hand. Painful, at times, but I just had to get it out. The book was finished in ten months. However, revisions would follow. Don’t revisions always follow?

2. You’ve said that a wish underlies everything you write. What is the wish underpinning One for the Murphys?

I guess the wish would be that someone had taken me aside when I was twelve and told me the things that Mrs. Murphy helped Carley learn. I would have worried a lot less about the future. Having a compass is so important for kids.

3. Heroism is a major theme in this book. Who are the heroes in this story? Are they modeled after any heroes in your life?

Well, I have been working on the teacher’s guide and this is a question in there! Really, there are few characters in the book that aren’t heroes in one way or another.

Mrs. Murphy is modeled after a teacher that I met as a young teacher. She was twenty two years older than me and taught me a lot about the world. About marriage and teaching, and raising children. She also demanded that I look upon myself differently than I had.

Carley is me. The facts of the story are made up but her emotional journey is one that I have taken. Some of my friends in SCBWI know this. I think it’s heroic to come out of any difficulty life hands you looking upward and to the future. Opening myself up to Carley and the other characters in One for the Murphys was the last leg of that race.

4. Wicked plays a big role in this book. What drew you to the play personally? What does the play mean to Carley?

Well, I think we all feel like we don’t fit in at one point or another. I guess this is what drew me to the story. I loved Elphaba from the beginning—not because she didn’t belong, but because she is a fighter. Because she speaks up for both herself and others who have no voice. Because she is tough yet deeply vulnerable.

At the end of the first half of Wicked there is a song entitled, Defying Gravity—I have never seen anything so visually, musically, and emotionally stunning. I love the message of rising above the difficulties in your life. Let’s face it—it’s necessary to have a happy life. But let me be clear—rising above is not the same as forgetting or dismissing.

And, that’s what it means to Carley. 

5. Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a little about that? Is the process different than what you went through writing One for the Murphys?

I am working on another middle grade entitled ALPHABET SOUP. It is about fifth grader, Lucy Nickerson, who is growing up in 1973. He beloved brother is in Vietnam and she is always in trouble at school, as she uses misbehavior to hide the fact that she can’t read. However, she finally comes across a young teacher who sees through her bluster.

The process is the same—a bit nutty! I typically write the initial three chapters first, then the final chapter and then I spend the rest of the time connecting the beginning to the end. A strange process but an effective one!

6. Is there a question you’d like to answer that I didn’t think to ask?

Well, actually, I’d like to know a little more about YOUR Earth Day book that is coming out in the spring. Care to give us some details???

Thanks for joining me on Lupine Seeds! You can find out more about Lynda and her work at her website at and at her blog

And to answer Lynda's question, When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, the story of the creation of the first Earth Day, should be out next spring.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Snowzilla: Interview with Janet Lawler

A Snowzilla-sized welcome to acclaimed picture book author, Janet Lawler! She’s here to talk about her latest book, Snowzilla. In this delightful winter tale, Cami Lou and her brother build the hugest snowman the world has ever seen. Snowzilla is a sensation, drawing tourists from near and far. But neighbors complain that Snowzilla is a giant problem. Can Cami Lou find a way to save him?

I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book. To be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment after this interview.

Janet, can you tell us what sparked the idea for Snowzilla?

In 2008 I read an online news report about an injunction issued to prevent an Anchorage, Alaska man from building a 25-foot snowman. It seemed like a sad commentary on our times. So I ruminated for several months before writing my tall tale about a giant snowman. I decided that my Snowzilla would be built by kids, and that, in spite of the big problems he causes, his story would have a happy ending.

The book is in rhyme. You make this look easy, but I know how difficult rhyme is to write. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

There is certainly an element of my writing process that is intuitive. I have been writing in rhyme since I was a little girl, and I love the way rhyme can weave a web of sounds to further a good story and enchant little ones. Over the years, I have analyzed and broken down the steps I take while writing in rhyme, and now I consciously work on creating smooth beat/rhyme patterns, and revise many times to eliminate forced rhyme, inconsistent rhythms, trite rhymes, and words that don’t “flow.” I also focus on eliminating too much description, so an illustrator will have some room for creativity, and I strive to focus on action and “fun” verbs. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “What if?” and “What else?” and try taking the story or couplet in a whole different direction that might open up new rhyme possibilities. I always read my work out loud, many times, before deciding on the best choice for a word or a line.

This book tackles a sticky issue, a community controversy, yet it remains upbeat and age-appropriate. How did you manage to pull this off? What do you see as the theme of your book?

We all can benefit by living more like kids, finding joy in the world around us (building snowmen!), and figuring out ways to get along and solve conflicts. So right from the beginning, I kept thinking, what would a kid do? I had a lot of fun having Cami Lou use modern technology, in an age-appropriate way, to send out an S.O.S (Save Our Snowman!). She doesn’t generate any negative energy or attack the nay-sayers. Her approach is all positive, solution-seeking, genuine effort. It is how we all should tackle problems and controversies.
My theme is that if you dream big and take positive action, anything is possible.

Cami Lou is a delightful, take-action kind of character. Do you see her as a role model for girls?

Yes. I definitely see Cami Lou as a role model and I hope she inspires girls (and boys) to dream, create, and most importantly, communicate. She orchestrates family cooperation to build Snowzilla. Then she encounters very big obstacles when neighbors complain and lawsuits are filed. But she reaches out and draws the entire community into a workable solution. And she doesn’t stop there—what will she dream of next?

Would you like to share a little of the book’s journey to publication?

After a few rejections on an early round of submissions, I let the story percolate a bit and went back and revised some more to start the action quicker and eliminate too much description.
In February of 2010, I decided it was a perfect time to get an editor’s attention, since the record-breaking snowfall of that winter had much of the Northeast shoveling, piling, slogging—and building snowmen! Within a few weeks, I had two publishers interested in the project at the same time! I ultimately continued discussions and accepted an offer from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. I revised a bit more with my editor that spring, and illustrator Amanda Haley started work shortly thereafter. The book released on October 2, 2012 by Amazon Children’s Publishing, which acquired Marshall Cavendish earlier this year.

You’ve published a number of other picture books, including If Kisses Were Colors and Tyrannoclaus. What draws you to writing picture books? Is there a thread that connects all your work?

The threads of nature and family bonds are woven in much of my writing. I am always inspired by the beauty of nature. I also believe that the bonds of love that tie families and friends provide a foundation for lives well lived and dreams realized. And I suppose the thread of “wonder” is there, overriding everything. Kids view so much of the world with a sense of wonder, and I still think I have that sense too, which is why I am drawn to writing picture books. I can wonder about what Christmas might be like in the time of the dinosaurs, or share the wonder of showing love to a newborn baby. And the very act of sharing picture books reinforces the bonds of which I write, and that gives me a very good feeling!

Could you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I just finished writing an early non-fiction counting book for National Geographic. Ocean Counting, which comes out next spring, features breathtaking undersea photographs by Brian Skerry. I truly had a sense of wonder as I gazed at the pictures and wrote text to describe the sea animals. I also researched and wrote interesting “Did you know?” facts to share with little readers.
I am also working on a couple of other picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel that was inspired by a family trip to Vietnam five years ago. I am enjoying the challenge of writing in a new genre (and am more than ever in awe of my colleagues who write novels).

Thank you, Janet! And thank you, kind reader, for visiting my blog. I’ll be thinking of Snowzilla on the next snowy day. And for those who would like to find out more about Janet and her books, you can visit her website at
Don’t forget, if you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy of Snowzilla, just leave a comment after this interview.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brixen Witch- Interview with author Stacy DeKeyser

Today, as a special Halloween treat, I welcome Stacy DeKeyser, author of The Brixen Witch, a fantasy for 10-12 year olds.

“Rudi Bauer ran for his life and cursed his bad luck. He would never have touched the gold coin—much less put it in his pocket—if he’d known it belonged to a witch.” Thus begins the story of a boy, an enchanted coin, and the hex he brings upon his village. Rudi must confront a mountain witch, a mysterious stranger, and a plague of rats in order to erase the curse that threatens to steal away the town’s most precious treasure.

Could you tell us a little about an alpine village and its mountain witch cross-pollinated with the Pied Piper tale to produce the Brixen Witch?

I’d wanted to write about a mountain witch for a long time, ever since visiting the Italian Alps and hearing local legends. But I could never figure out what her story should be. I finally abandoned that idea, because I became reacquainted with the Pied Piper story, and became obsessed. My storyteller’s brain was really bothered by it: so many loose threads, and no satisfactory ending. Mark Twain supposedly said, “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense.” I agree with that. I decided to try writing a new version of the Pied Piper story; one that made sense.
I found Robert Browning’s Pied Piper poem, beautifully illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Those illustrations reminded me a lot of the village I’d visited in the Italian Alps—the one with its own legend of a mountain witch. Suddenly, my Pied Piper story also had a witch, and to me they fit together perfectly. (Just don’t ask me where the golden coin came from. I have no idea.)

My favorite line from the book was “You know it’s bad luck to talk of such things…” What a great way to heighten the mystery and drama. How did it come to you?

It popped out of Oma’s mouth during an early conversation with Rudi, when she tells him to return the witch’s coin. I knew Oma had a long history of dealing with the witch, but I also knew she would be tight-lipped about it. Then, during a later draft of the story, I realized that Oma was not the only character who avoided talking about the witch – the entire village did. (They’re a superstitious lot.) Thus, one throwaway line became a kind of refrain throughout the story.

Rudi inadvertently brings an avalanche of bad luck to his alpine village. His parents are oblivious, and Rudi must make things right on his own. Yet, unlike many other modern fantasies, he does live in a warm and supportive community: Otto the baker, Marco the blacksmith, Mistress Tanner and Rudi’s Oma who guides him with her cryptic wisdom. Can you tell us about how the community of Brixen took root in your imagination?

As a kid reader, I preferred to have grownups out of a story as much as possible, even though I knew it wasn’t always realistic. I guess I always assumed that adults were lurking somewhere, just not “in the way.” And I think that’s how kids like things in general, especially early adolescents. They like feeling in charge of their own lives, and they certainly have to deal with so many things on their own. But they also want to know that parents, and other supportive adults, are there to back them up if they need them. I decided Rudi would feel the same way. And I do think community is very important. One line from the book is: “No one paid attention to whose child was whose. Every child was a child of Brixen, and that was enough.” I believe that, and I’ve been lucky enough to always have been a part of communities where that sentiment was the unspoken rule.

You mentioned in a previous interview that you had to research rat catching for your book. Can you tell us about your hunt for that information? What other research did you have to do for this book? How important is it to have accurate facts in a fiction book?

The more accurate the true stuff is, the more readily a reader will believe in the stuff you’ve made up. I probably started by Googling “rat catching,” and went from there. I was really lucky to find a self-published booklet from 1895, written by a real rat catcher in England. He went into great and gory detail about catching rats. But I was also struck by the obvious pride he took in his work. I modeled Herbert Wenzel the rat catcher after him. I also researched Germanic names, and the local flora and fauna of the Alps, so I could get those little details right.

Rudi is a terrific character. Will we be seeing him again?

I hope so! I’m working on a book about the further adventures of Rudi and friends. Stay tuned!

Your first two books were biographies. How did you make the leap from nonfiction to fiction? Do you think you’d ever go back to nonfiction?

Each genre has its own challenges. With nonfiction, the information is already there. The author’s challenge is to sift through it, and then find a fresh way to write about it. With fiction, you start from scratch, which to me is very scary. But it’s great fun to create whole new worlds and characters. I still write nonfiction, but now it’s essays and blog posts. If I ever happen upon a really compelling topic, I’d consider writing a nonfiction book again. Never say never!

What project/s are you working on now?

As I mentioned above, I’ve started a new story for Rudi. It’s based on another traditional tale. That’s all I’ll say for now, because I believe in jinxes.
Thank you, Linda!

Thank you, Stacy, for your generosity in sharing your story, and your writing process. Readers, if you would like to know more about Stacy and her work, you can visit her website at or you can check out her blog at

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Black Regiment of the American Revolution

Today I just have to crow a little. My book, The Black Regiment of the American Revolution, has been adopted as part of the core social studies curriculum for the state of Georgia.

I'm delighted that they've chosen my book, of course, but I'm more pleased that Georgia has recognized the importance of these African-American patriots in our nation's history.

I'd also like to announce that I'll be celebrating Halloween in a special way this year, by hosting an interview with Stacy DeKeyser, author of Brixen Witch.
Hope you can join us!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Authors for Earth Day

Dear Librarians, Media Specialists and Teachers,

Would you like to host a special author event at your school? To promote the importance of our blue planet, I'm offering one unique author visit in the month of April. As a participant in Authors for Earth Day (, I will be donating 50% of my day’s speaking fee to a conservation organization and the donation recipient will be decided by a student vote at the school I visit.

This is my way to join hands with educators in a celebration of literacy and conservation, and to inspire students make a positive impact on the world. Here’s how it works:

1. Prior to my visit, the students will be given their "nominees". I will provide a list of five conservation organizations with brief details about who they help and how, plus websites for the kids to research so they can make educated votes.

2. Prior to my visit, classroom teachers will discuss the upcoming event, discussing my children’s books, emphasizing the power of voice—as writers and as voters—as well as the conservation message of Earth Day.

3. During my special author visit, the kids will vote for whichever conservation group they think is most deserving of my donation. The ballots (paperless, if possible) will be tallied to determine the donation recipient.

4. At day's end, we will announce the "winning organization" and I will write a check to that non-profit in honor of the school's students and staff. NOTE: The school pays me in the normal fashion and I make the donation.

If you have an interest in hosting my Authors for Earth Day event to educate your students with this unique author experience, please check your school calendar for an available day in April, then contact me. Unfortunately, I can only attend one school for this event, so if there are several schools interested, there will likely be a drawing.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Linda C Brennan

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Leslie Bulion and Universe of Fair

Today award-winning author, Leslie Bulion is here to talk about her marvelous new book, The Universe of Fair:

Eleven-year-old science enthusiast Miller Sanford sees himself as a responsible kid, but his parents think he's too young to explore the annual town Fair alone with his best friend. Hopeful that this year they will reconsider, Miller works extra hard to be nice to his little sister Penny and her friends. When his mother can’t attend the Fair and his father has to cover her volunteer booth hours as well as his own, Miller ends up with more responsibility than he can handle. Instead of enjoying a free-wheeling day on his own at the Fair, he is drawn into a series of mishaps involving a string of tagalong first graders, his dad s prize-worthy lemon meringue pie, flying death heads, a giant jack-o -lantern, and his Theory of Everything science fair project.

Miller Sanford is a wonderful character. He’s quirky, caring, and constantly scheming. How did you manage to channel the voice of an eleven year old boy so well? Is he inspired by a real boy? What about his buddy, video camera-toting Lewis? What inspired him?

Thanks for the lovely opportunity to visit you on your blog, Linda, and for your kind description of Miller. Once the manuscript was in revision I realized that he—and pretty much every character in this book—registers fairly high on the quirkiness scale. I loved following Miller’s reasoning as I wrote along, but I honestly think he’s cut and sewn of whole fiction cloth. Lewis is made-up, too, though my brother-in-law is a TV director/producer/editor who creates surprising and impossibly funny, coherent story videos out of clips you’d never think would work. So I know that at least in his universe, it’s possible!

This is my favorite kind of book. It’s laugh out loud funny, yet it has poignant moments, too. Could you tell us a little about how you work? Do you start with an underlying theme and then build in the funny situations, or do you start with the funny situations and then realize you have a theme?

Here’s what I knew when I started this book:
The setting would be an agricultural fair. A kid desperately wanted to be at the fair without parents. A mishap with a baked good would occur. That’s it—that’s all I had. I did think the fair would be a great setting for a wacky, funny story, but I didn’t realize I would spend the next year or two whining: funny is hard, funny is killing me. Most of the time, I’d write Miller and his ensemble through their crazy situations, and then I’d go back and get out of Miller’s way to try and let him (and the others) ramp up the humor. I wanted Miller to make me laugh. I think the groundwork for the humor was there, but more was added in revision.

Last weekend, before I did this interview, I went to the Washington County Fair. I sampled the fair food and watched the rides. I toured the booth where Miller’s Theory of Everything project would have been. Miller’s family is whole-heartedly involved in their fair. I believe it’s modeled after the fair in your home town. What does the fair mean to Miller, and to you?

The Durham Fair is the largest all-volunteer agricultural fair in North America. When you live here, you quickly learn that those volunteers have to come from someplace, and that someplace is the inside of your own shoes. Our kids come through a school system that’s steeped in Fair. Classes make and enter exhibits and every school group runs a fundraiser booth or staffs some part of the Fair. Most parents (and school parents emeriti) volunteer in one capacity or another, as do civic groups. The work is continuous, demanding, fun, and very social, infused with a true sense of community. Every kid longs for the same rite of passage as Miller—the freedom to roam the fair without parents. I’m reasonably sure that most don’t have the same terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, though (thank you, Judith Viorst). One of the most moving Fair experiences for me was seeing my daughters and their friends go off to college and return to the Fair every year for a ready-made reunion with their high school classmates. They filled our home with young adults that weekend, too, sharing their Fair roots with new friends.

Two strands are interwoven through your life, your love of writing and your love of science. You’ve written poems about bugs (Hey There Stink Bug!) and the ocean before (At the Sea Floor CafĂ©), but in this book you had theoretical physics. Really, theoretical physics! And you seamlessly incorporated it into the story. I absolutely loved how Miller tried to decide if string theory and extra dimensions could explain the existence of ghosts. What inspired you to write a middle grade novel about physics? How did you manage to blend it into the story?

I hope my master’s degree in science won’t be revoked for admitting that I’ve never taken a physics course in my life. Not even in high school. Since I incorporate science into all of my novels as well as in my science poetry, I decided to use this opportunity to address that gaping hole in my science education by reading and learning something about string theory. After my own research and several drafts of the manuscript, I asked a few physics buddies to take a little conjecture trip with Miller and me regarding ghosts and string theory, and I compared their more knowledge-based ideas to my own rudimentary ruminations to be sure I had come up with something remotely plausible. Plausible in the realm of extra dimensions, multiple universes and subatomic strings, that is.

• For Mentor Monday on Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s blog, you talked about how your fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Brownworth, encouraged your writing. Who and what have been some of the other influences on your work?

Everything influences my writing, Linda—everything I’ve ever read, all of the wonderful and generous writer and illustrator friends with whom I’ve shared work, workshops I’ve attended, SCBWI, theater, television, and my life experiences past and present. Mrs. Brownworth certainly started me on the poetry path, but I don’t remember writing fiction until I was in my 30’s taking a wonderful memoir-into-fiction class at Cornell Adult University with author Dennis A. Williams, many summers ago. I learned so much from Dennis about fiction, story, and writing, and about how to give and hear valuable crit in a generous and safe space. He invited me to send him my piece again after a revision—so encouraging. His was hands-down the best class I ever took at Cornell, including during my undergrad years. I wrote this limerick for him at the end-of-session “roast”:

The CAU students did shout,
Dennis, tell us what fiction’s about!
He said: tell your story,
All its truth, all its glory,
But if truth doesn’t work, throw it out!

One of the best lessons ever!

• You’ve written a picture book about East Africa (Fatuma’s New Cloth), a teen novel (Uncharted Waters), poetry books about science, and now a middle grade novel. Could you tell us about your journey as a writer? Where are you headed next?

Although Uncharted Waters is on some teen lists, I consider it older middle grade, and see myself as a middle-grade author, whether I’m writing poetry or novels.

Recently, I’ve been alternating between science poetry manuscripts and novels, and I’ll probably continue that pattern if I can. I love being immersed in the world of a novel, but when I have to say goodbye to the characters I’ve been living with for a year or more, I’m not always ready to move in with new ones—it’s a loyalty thing. So I turn to the next science poetry manuscript in the stack of waiting ideas. Writing poetry is an entirely different process for me, so in a way, it clears my emotional writing space for the next novel. My newest science poetry book, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse will come out sometime in the next year.

Thanks so much for being a guest on my blog, Leslie! Can’t wait to read Random Body Parts. Folks can see a book trailer for The Universe of Fair at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Memorable Moments

I always urge my writing students to keep a journal, but often they protest that their life is boring. What can they write about?
Have you ever noticed how a skilled raconteur can make a trip to the grocery store more interesting than a droning neighbor’s junket to Japan? Truly, everyone has a fascinating life. The trick is to focus on the details, the memorable moments.
So instead of trying to capture an entire day in your journal with a dreary list of all you did, recall one standout scene. Perhaps it was a young boy, lying on his back, stroking a golden retriever. Maybe it was a chestnut tree doodling its spent blossoms across the lawn. Or perhaps it was a lone Cherrio forgotten on the kitchen floor.
Make a commitment to write about at least one moment a day for the next week. Practice capturing these moments in your most effective language.
There are volumes hidden here. Who knows where these moments will lead you?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poetic Inspiration

I've been practicing poetry as part of my morning journaling, not that I believe I'm a great poet, but because I hope it will improve my prose.
I've been using Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux's The Poet's Companion to guide me.
I've adapted one of their poetry prompts for fictional characters:

Describe an object that you associate with your character. How does the character use this object in a way that provides insight into

their personality?

I'll love to hear everyone's response to this prompt.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

David A. Kelly, author of Ballpark Mysteries

I’d like to introduce author David A. Kelly. Welcome to my blog, David!

I know you as the author of Random House’s Early Reader series, Ballpark Mysteries, but you’re also the Business Travel Guide for, you’re a technology analyst for Upside Research and you’re a guest columnist for the website IT Briefcase. Incredible! Tell us a little about these other facets of your writing life.

I never really set out to be a writer. When I was in school, my mother had to review everything I wrote, to check for all manners of misspellings, mistakes, and simple laziness. It was definitely not an auspicious start. I guess over the years I developed a facility to write, but never really thought it might become a major part of my life. Instead, I went to school for computer science and found myself working in a variety of technology-related jobs, from programming to product management to marketing. After spending a lot of time writing marketing reports and customer case studies, I realized I actually had an aptitude for writing and that when I thought it about it, it was fun. So I started exploring it a bit more. I branched out (back in the 1990s) and started writing travel articles for newspapers like the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Writing travel stories taught me how to write interesting articles with lots of useful information. The experience is actually really helpful for my current focus, children’s literature and my Ballpark Mysteries series.

I continue to write occasional travel articles for newspapers, as well as articles for, where I’m the Guide to Business Travel. At I focus on business travel, from hotel reviews to miles and rewards to travel technology. In addition, I write for technology companies like Oracle and Oracle Magazine, as well as consulting with other technology companies on marketing and content development.

Can you switch easily from technology writing to writing for children? How are these types of writing the same and different? Do prefer one type of writing over another?
I usually can switch pretty easily, but it does take a day or two to get into the right frame of mind to be really productive when I’m writing for children.

For me, writing about technology and business isn’t really that different from writing baseball mysteries for children. I strive to make both types of writing clear and concise. (Okay, I can use bigger words and longer sentences when it comes to technology writing). All things being equal, I’d probably say that I find writing for children to be more interesting than technology writing because I get to explore a wider range of ideas and have to push myself a bit more to create a compelling story. But if I’m looking at my bank account statement, I’d have to say that technology writing is lot more interesting (at least for the moment!).

How did your career as a children’s writer evolve?
I have two boys, who are now in high school. When they were in third and fourth grade we were spending a lot time playing baseball and reading books. They were really the first inspiration for starting to write children’s books.

The Ballpark Mysteries were inspired by my love of reading and the level of excitement my two sons found from playing baseball. When I was younger, I used to love mystery stories—from the Hardy Boys to Encyclopedia Brown, and even to the Partridge Family mystery stories (try to find those now!). As I was reading books to my boys, the excitement and fun of mysteries came back to me. But my sons, like lots of boys and girls, were interested in sports and physical activities. They were so interested in playing baseball or watching baseball games that it opened my eyes to the power of sports and activities like baseball to fire the imagination of boys and girls. I looked around for children’s books that featured both sports and mysteries, but didn’t find many that fit the bill. That's when I realized that there was something missing in the market—adventure/mysteries that were set in the dozens of really cool cities and ballparks around North America.

What’s it like writing a series like the Ballpark Mysteries? Is it very different than writing a stand-alone title?
In each Ballpark Mysteries book, boys and girls can expect to discover something new (did you know that astronaut's don't eat pizza or that there's a hidden message in Fenway Park's scoreboard?) as well as be absorbed by an interesting whodunit that takes the main characters, Mike and Kate, into some interesting situations. The Ballpark Mysteries are simply mystery and adventure books set in baseball stadiums.

Each Ballpark Mysteries book is set in a different major league ballpark and while it usually involves a baseball game (book five is set during the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game!), baseball is more of a backdrop to the action, adventure, and mystery that drives each story forward.

Readers certainly don’t have to know anything about baseball (or other sports) to enjoy them. And because each baseball park and team is so unique there are great opportunities for even the biggest sports fan to learn something new. In each book, Mike and Kate visit a ballpark to take a tour or see a game, but lots of the action may also happen outside the ballpark. In the third book they visit a number of interesting landmarks around Los Angeles, while in the fourth book (set in Houston), they get to visit NASA and try on space suits.

I hear you travel to ballparks and watch games as part of your research. How cool is that! Can you tell us some interesting anecdotes about your trips?
Great question. It’s really pretty good that part of my job is to head out to a couple of baseball stadiums each year and spend a couple of months writing about them! Again, I never would have expected that would be part of my job a few years ago, but it I love it.

Since each of the Ballpark Mysteries is set in a different MLB park, I have to write about a new baseball team and stadium for each book. Usually I start by going out and spending 5 – 7 days in each city that I’m going to write about. I take a tour of the ballparks, and usually try to watch between 2 – 4 games if my schedule allows. I also have to spend a fair amount of time sightseeing and checking out all types of possible sights, attractions, historical areas, and shops that might fit into the story or mystery. At this stage of the writing I never know what the mystery will about, or what I’ll need to write the book, so I hustle to take lots of notes, lots of pictures, and see lots of sights.

In terms of interesting anecdotes from my trips, I’m not sure I have many, though I still shiver with thoughts of the night games I watched in San Francisco. It was the middle of August and I’ve never been so cold in all my life! Everyone around me had warm, wooly hats on and winter coats. After a few nights at Giant’s games I can fully appreciate Mark Twain’s alleged remark that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco! Other than that, I’ve had great times in Kansas City, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and more. But usually, I’m so busy writing and taking pictures not that much interesting happens!

Your latest Ballpark Mystery, The Astro Outlaw, takes place at the Astrodome. Tell us about that story.
The Astro Outlaw (set in Houston, book 4) is an exciting book because it covers a lot of ground—NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Apollo Moon missions, a missing moon rock, and huge steam train (right in the stadium!). I had a great time writing it because it combined another favorite topic of time (space and technology) with baseball. The story is also one of my favorites because I was able to tie an interesting baseball play into the story in a way that becomes critical for the main characters, Mike and Kate, for solving the mystery.

You also wrote a nonfiction book about baseball, Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. Can you tell us a little about that?
Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse is a chapter book for elementary school children about baseball great Babe Ruth and two main teams he played for—the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. It explores Ruth's hard-luck childhood (six of his seven brothers and sisters died as babies!) and the "curse" that befell the Boston Red Sox after trading him to the New York Yankees.

I came up with the idea to write the book after my editor at Random House asked me to write a true-life adventure story. I thought Babe Ruth would be perfect. He’s just such an amazing character. He wasn’t always nice and he didn’t always do the right thing, but he was one of the best athletes ever, and he had a heart of gold. Of course, living in Boston it’s almost impossible not to be a Red Sox fan, so I wanted to combine Ruth's story with the excitement of the 2004 Red Sox World Series run, where the team battled back from incredible odds to finally win another World Series after decades and decades of draught.

So far, all your children’s books have been for Early Readers. What draws you to this age group? What are the special challenges of writing for this group?
Well, would it be bad to say “the length?” Or, more specifically, “they’re short enough so that I thought I had good chance at finishing one?”

Seriously, I never really considered writing books or stories for a living. I didn’t think I would be able to really write and publish a book, so I thought that if I was going to try, I should at least try something that wasn’t going to waste too much time. That ruled out adult books, as well as middle grade and young adult books. I looked at the types of books my boys were reading, and pretty quickly figured that I could at least have a chance of writing one of a similar length (about 10,000 words).

While now I envision actually writing some books for older children, I love writing for this age group (ages 6 – 9, roughly, although the books really seem to appeal to old, reluctant readers really nicely). The stories have to move along quickly. The writing has to be clean, short, and interesting. And things can’t be too crazy. I think over the series (I’m up to book 7 now), my writing has gotten crisper and cleaner and I have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

I don’t think there are really any special challenges in writing for this group. I don’t worry at all about specific word choices or vocabulary, but do I do work hard to make the sentences short and keep things clean. I’ve also learned over and over again to show, not tell, when I’m describing something. I think that’s particularly important for this level.

You have a new book coming out called Baseball Mud—really, Baseball Mud. Can you tell us about that book?
Sure. Baseball Mud is a picture book scheduled to come out in the spring of 2013 from Lerner. It’s the great story of Lena Blackburn and how he discovered baseball mud. Most baseball fans might know a lot about their team, but they probably don’t know that every one of the 70 – 90 brand new baseballs that major league teams use every game have to be rubbed in mud before the game! And that the mud that’s used comes from a secret, hidden place in New Jersey! And that it comes from one company, which has been supplying major league teams with mud for 75 years!

I had come across the fact a few years ago, and after finishing Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse I was looking for something that would make a good picture book. Out popped Baseball Mud. It’s a story that’s a lot of fun to share with people.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our visitors?
I can’t think of anything. Other than perhaps a question that I get asked a lot about how to become a children’s book writer. The key for me was persistence (and luck!). My first attempts at a baseball mystery story were definitely weak, but I worked to solicit feedback from other writers and editors and received a lot of very helpful advice and suggestions. I worked hard to incorporate them and eventually broke through by selling my first manuscript. I think you not only have to be a good writer to get published, but you have to persistent AND be willing to flexible. I was never wedded to one particular story or one way of writing, which was really helpful as I received feedback and revised my works.

And one last thing—don’t forget to look for the next book in the series this June. The All-Star Joker (book 5) takes Mike and Kate to this summer’s All Star game in Kansas City, where they have to find the culprit who’s playing practical jokes. Random House will also be releasing an audio book compilation of the first five books in June, which is really cool as well.

Thanks so much for joining me on my blog! Don’t forget folks, if you’d like to be entered in a chance to win a signed copy of David’s book, The Astro Outlaw, just leave a comment on this post.
You can find out more about David and his books at, the Ballpark Mysteries website:, or his Facebook page (

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Earth Day Guest Blogger

I'm very excited to be today's guest on the Authors for Earth Day blog.
You can link to my post here:

In support of Authors for Earth Day

, I will donate half of my next school visit fee to an organization that supports conservation. You can contact me about visiting your school through my website at

And in honor of Spring, and all things baseball, I've invited David A. Kelly author of the Ballpark Mysteries, to be my guest on this blog on April 25th.

You'll have a chance to win a signed copy of his latest book in the series, The Astro Outlaw, just by leaving a comment after his interview. See you there!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thanks to you and to Secondary Characters

Thanks to all who stopped by and left a comment on my interview with Hazel Mitchell. We do have a winner! This give-away was so much fun that I plan to do another soon. (More about that in future posts.)

I’ve been staring out the window, watching the snow fall, and searching for some nugget to share with you today. Finally I decided I’d just refer everyone to Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s insightful post, “The Major Role of Secondary Characters.”

Lynda’s debut novel, One for the Murphys, will be out from Penguin this May. I can’t wait to read it and meet Toni.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hazel Mitchell Interview and Contest

I'd like to welcome Hazel Mitchell to my blog today.

To celebrate her visit, I'll be holding a book-give-away. Just comment on this post to have a chance at winning a copy of Hidden New Jersey.

Drawing and horses were Hazel Mitchell’s great escapes growing up in Yorkshire, UK. She attended art college, but left to run away to sea. She says the Royal Navy taught her to be a graphic designer. Now she lives in Maine doing her dream job—writing and illustrating children’s books.

She wrote and illustrated the e-book, ‘The Ugly Duckling’, winner of Classic Tale. Her latest illustration projects include a four book chapter book series ‘All Star Cheerleaders’ by Anastasia Suen and ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid’ by Daniel Stefanski, which is a ‘Books for a Better Life’ Finalist 2012. She’s here today to talk about her latest release, ‘Hidden New Jersey’ by Linda Barth, and published by Charlesbridge imprint Mackinac Island Press.

Welcome to my blog, Hazel!

Thanks, glad to be here!

1. Folks always love to hear about all that led to a contract and that exciting phone call or email. Could you tell us a little about how you were chosen to be the illustrator for Hidden New Jersey? – Sure. Yes, this one was quite exciting, because it came from all places, Facebook. The developer for the book saw some of the work I had posted on my fan page and thought I would be a perfect fit for the book. So she sent me an email and we went from there.This is the third book in the series, Michigan and Ohio have already been published.

2. Your characters are so expressive. Could you tell us a bit about the technique and materials you used for your illustrations? Working on this book was like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Each page is different, dealing with a specific area of the state, (although there are some themes that run through the illustrations … children canoeing and the little bumblebee who is the ‘mascot’ of the book – as well as the hidden objects throughout). My first task was to read through the research for each page, find out about them and sketch out a design for each page incorporating all the different facts. The rough sketches went for approval and then I worked up a final drawing about 150% larger than the final page. I scanned each drawing at high resolution and then used photoshop to add the final colouring. I also had to decide which objects would be hidden on each page and where I would hide them.

3. Did you do a lot of research and field trips to the places mentioned in the book? Do you have any interesting stories to tell us about that? All my research was done online, unfortunately. I live in Maine and the book was completed in about 4 months so there wasn’t a lot of time for field trips. Luckily my husband is from New Jersey so he was able to help me a lot! I really enjoyed finding out more about the state … it is so much more diverse and historic than I imagined. Linda Barth, the author, lives in Somerville New Jersey, and is an historian, so her fabulous research really helped me.

4. Which of the illustrations was the most challenging and why? I think one of the most challenging illustrations was ‘The Gateway’ that looks at the proximity of New York City and involved bridges, the Statue of Liberty, the Colgate Clock, a horse, the skyline, ferries. There was a lot of detail to incorporate and I wanted to make the design quite dramatic.

5. Did illustrating this book open any new avenues for you? This was my first real non-fiction book and I really enjoyed doing it, so I hope I will do more. Who knows, I might even get to do another state!

6. Do you have any new projects in the works? I will be working on the final book in the first series of ‘All Star Cheerleaders’, a four book series by Anastasia Suen, published by Kane Miller. I am also working on writing and illustrating my own picture books so hope that in the near future one of those will be in a bookstore near you!

To find out more about Hazel Mitchell and her books, and to see a trailer of Hidden New Jersey, visit her website at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Give-Away and Golden Scissor Award

In what state can you eat salt-water taffy on the boardwalk, hike the Kittatinny Mountains, ride the tallest and fastest roller coaster on earth, and catch the calf-roping at the Cowtown Rodeo? New Jersey of course!

Find out more about the state’s hidden treasures in Hidden New Jersey. To earn a chance to win a copy of the book, just stop by my interview with illustrator Hazel Mitchell next Thursday, February 23, and leave a comment.

Announcing the Golden Scissor Award
Do agonize over cutting a single word of your precious manuscript? The Golden Scissor is for you. Award it to yourself when you gamely hold your breath and clip away, leaving masses of excess verbiage in heaps on your virtual office floor.

I’ve decided I deserved the Golden Scissor this week as I attacked an old nonfiction manuscript, hacking away at the dross to reveal the story within. I had been captivated by the subject’s tale of exploration and adventure, but my sails lost wind as my manuscript became submerged in details.

Back then, I felt I had to report on every aspect of the explorer’s three year journey. With experience, I’ve learned how to moor in the exciting moments and sail swiftly past the rest. Halfway through my edit, I’ve trimmed over 20 pages from my manuscript.

How can I bear to do this? I keep a copy of my old version of the manuscript, so nothing’s entirely lost. I can retrieve pages and paragraphs if I need them. But as the essence my story is revealed under my careful cutting, I realize I don’t need them. My manuscript is much better without them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Out of the Writer's Cave

I’ve emerged from my writer hibernation, blinking a bit in strong light of day. My series is complete, and I’m eager to return to other projects that have been put on hold.

I have some wonderful guests scheduled on my blog in the months ahead. Illustrator, Hazel Mitchell, will be stopping by February 23rd to discuss her just-released Hidden New Jersey (Charlesbridge). In honor of her visit, I’ll be holding my first-ever contest, giving away a copy of her book. The winner will be chosen at random from one of the commenters on Hazel Mitchell’s post. You can view a trailer of Mitchell’s book at her website at

Right now, I’m preparing for the New England SCBWI Nonfiction Academy, held as part of the region’s annual conference this spring, April 20-22 in Springfield, MA. I’ve been checking out recently released nonfiction titles that have garnered some acclaim.

Last night I read two books where the illustrations beautifully supported the text, making these books to experience, not just read. The first was Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. Sidman’s poems evoke the mystery of the creatures of the night while Allen’s hand-colored prints are luminous, glowing in the darkness.

The second was Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White. Jenkins makes a powerful case for working to save the creatures that share our planet. And White’s creatures loom out at you with a few strokes of her pencil. These books exemplify the best in picture book nonfiction.