Wednesday, April 30, 2008


One of my favorite movies as a kid was Homecoming that spun off the series The Waltons. I love the part when the dad returns from a long journey and gives Christmas gifts to the kids. It never fails to touch me when John Boy, who wants to be a writer, receives tablets. As a writer, I know that those tablets mean more than a place to put his words. The giver has told him that he believes in his writing.

This week in the mail, I received three big yellow writing pads from Tish at The Blue Marble Children's Book Store. "Keep Writing," she said.

I will Tish. Thank you!

Monday, April 28, 2008


When I returned from a school visit trip last month, Jerry told me, "Honey, I fixed your birdhouse while you were gone."

"Birdhouse?" I have a lot of birdhouses, but I didn't know any of them had broken.

He pointed to the birdhouse hanging from the porch cover.

"Jerry, that was a bird feeder."

"It was?" He shrugged. "Well, it's a birdhouse now."

I was a little miffed, thinking of how I'd miss watching the birds glide into the feeder. They ate with such abandonment, they didn't notice me observing them from my kitchen window. I enjoyed the intimate view. Now that would never be.

Then last week, I stepped onto the porch and noticed a chickadee escape from the new birdhouse. A peek inside the structure proved delightful moments can happen from accidents.

Often when writing historical fiction, I stumble on a fact that interrupts my foreseen journey. Sometimes it's the tiniest detail that ruins my story's plot. For a while, my confidence is shaken and I feel defeated. Then the same fact that dents my plan offers me something fresh and exciting. I'm reminded that discovering the story we're meant to write almost always means changing our original plans along the way.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


This last week I visited schools in Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I want to thank Shabonee School, Wood Oaks Junior High, Maple School, and Field Middle School for a terrific week. Thank you for reading my books and making me feel welcome at your school. I had a blast!

I love that Barbara Perley from Field Middle School continues to use a typewriter for some tasks. How charming!

**SCHOOL VISIT UPDATE: Recently I've received a lot of inquiries about visits for the next school year. Two more weeks are available.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed on two radio shows--The Book Report and Children's Book Radio.

The Book Report podcast: (An interview with Linda Sue Park follows mine so stay tuned.)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson is the host of The Book Report. Elisabeth is also the owner of Windows A Bookshop, a fine independent in Monroe, Louisiana.

Children's Book Radio podcast:

The interviewer, Sabrina Weissler, graduated with a degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and currently hosts two podcasts: and She and her husband Jody are the parents of twins, Madison and Logan, who are almost three years old. They happily reside in Woodland Hills, CA and share their love of reading each day with their kids!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


When two artists moved out of their workshop to a larger space, their wives decided they needed a clubhouse to call their own. So Charlotte and Daphne took over their husbands' former place behind Daphne's house. Zebra and leopard prints now cover the door to the shop. From the black and white toile ceiling to the painted rug on the floor, every inch now screams, "Fun lives here!"

The shop inspired their creative juices and they invited Daphne's sister, Debbie to join them. They became entrepreneurs. This weekend they opened the clubhouse for others to visit and shop. They sold their handmade items--beaded jewelry, toile jackets and stools, and much more.

Amazing things can happen when we carve out a space for ourselves. Virginia Wolf knew that. In her essay, A Room of One's Own, she states, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

When we first moved to our current home, I wrote at a table on the screen porch. The spot proved perfect until late June when the Texas summer temperatures could deep-fry a buzzard in mid-flight. I moved my work inside, squeezing a small desk into the guest bedroom. Six months later I switched the queen-sized bed for a twin, allowing me more space. When my first essay was accepted, I felt like I'd earned my stripes. I was now officially a published writer. I evicted the twin bed. The guest bedroom became my office.

On some level, having my own room, made it easier for me to write everyday. I had a place to create that had nothing to do with guests that might drop in for an overnight stay. The office allowed me the freedom to leave a project each night and meet up with it, again, the next morning.

Today, while shopping at the clubhouse, I asked Charlotte, "Did you have this idea cooking inside you for a long time now?"

"Not really," she said. "A month ago this shop had so much stuff. We took it over and then everything happened so quickly."

Their clubhouse had opened a door to their creativity by giving them a room of their own. Not everyone has a shop behind their house to retreat to, but we can carve a place for ourselves anywhere--a corner of a bedroom, an empty closet, the screen porch. Any space will do. Claim it, let it become your domain. Then be ready to follow the creative world that opens up to you.

Friday, April 18, 2008


With all the great response to this contest, I should give away a few more prizes.

So I threw in one more advance copy of Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy and three audio Cd's of Piper Reed Navy Brat. That means there are six winners!

Thank you to everyone who entered. Entries came from twenty-four states and three countries. Many of you had such sweet comments about Piper. That warmed my heart. I enjoy writing about Piper and her family so it was reassuring knowing that you like reading about them, too.

Entries were tossed in a salad bowl in two batches, then stuffed into the basket and randomly selected. In case you are wondering, I printed the names and addresses on recyclable paper.(a draft of the third Piper manuscript)

Here are the winners:

Winners of the advance copy:

Kathleen Guinnane of Lakewood Elementary School in Luling, Louisiana

Grace Fujimaki of Dubai, UAE

Laurie Schneider of Moscow, Idaho

Winners of the CD:

Samantha Goldstein of Indianapolis, Indiana

Kari Dahlen of Lafayette, California

Kathy Duval of Houston, Texas


*photo note: Emmerson is the daughter of my talented assistant, Shaunna and the big sister of Camden

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


What happens to a writer when she's stuck at home instead of going to TLA? She offers a give-away, of course!

Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy comes out in August, but you can have a chance to read it now. To enter the drawing, send your name and (snail mail)address to the following email:

Two winners will receive an advance copy of the new Piper book. All entries must be received by this Friday, April 18 at noon, central time. Good luck!

Monday, April 14, 2008


"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." --Woody Allen

I will not be going to TLA after all. I am sick. Thousands of librarians will be at the convention center. There is no reason to start an epidemic. Later this week, I will post the speech I'd plan to give during my session.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I'm heading to the Texas Library Association Conference this week. Tuesday afternoon, I'll be speaking on a panel about writing humor. Some of the other presenters on the panel are Laurie Keller, Nick Bruel, Maureen White, and Betty Carter. Karen Kessell is the moderator.

If you can't make the session, please stop by the Henry Holt booth and pick up an advance copy of Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy. Here's my schedule:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Wednesday, April 16, 2008
4:00-5:00 pm

Signing: (at the Holt Booth, #1309)

On another note, I want to thank the following Louisiana school and libraries for sponsoring my LLA Disaster Relief Fund Tour: Lakewood Elementary in Luling, Calcasieu Parish Library, and Lincoln Parish Library.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Today was my first day off from the spring tour. The morning started with coffee, grits, and conversation with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Don at their home in Fenton. Then I headed out to Forest Hill to spend the day with my grandfather.

After admiring the flowers in Pa's garden and meeting his new donkey, Dewey, we drove over to Fuzzies and ordered fried catfish and oyster dinners.

Later at his home, I continued my research about his life. My previous interviews took on a chronological order. This time, I tried a different angle. "Let's talk about the places you've been."

He told me although he was born in Lecompte, he spent his early years in Bayou Chicot. "We lived there until my grandfather's sawmill blew up. The old home place is still there though."

"It is?" I dropped my pen. Bayou Chicot was only 40 minutes away. "Let's go see it."

"Alright," Pa said without hesitation. Then he added. "Well, at least it was standing the last time I was in Chicot."

"When was that?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm not quite sure."

Still, I was up for the adventure. And so was he.

We headed out on Interstate 49 and took the Turkey Creek exit. Pa pointed to an old tin building with GARAGE faded across the front. "My cousins Woodrow and Willis built that."

A few minutes later we turned down a winding dirt road. When Pa saw the cemetery sign, he said, "That's where a lot of my people are buried."

We continued for about three miles, but the thick underbrush limited our views to Hunting Club signs alternating with No Hunting posters. We gave up, turned around and decided to scout out his grandparents' grave sites.

Cemeteries fascinate me. The names alone ignite my imagination. But today Pa told stories behind the names. The young cousin who died in a logging truck accident, and his young bride who died a week later from childbirth and grief. A mean cousin whose wife left him. And the orphaned sisters that had been separated and raised by two different family members.

When I motioned to the huge headstones that towered over all the others, he told me, "That was the richest family in the community." Somehow I'd already figured that out.

We opened gates to fenced-in family plots, searching for two names. An hour and some stories later, we found them sharing a single headstone: Willis and Mary Lenora Whatley. Pa's people and mine.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


This week I'm in Louisiana, visiting schools and libraries to raise money for the Louisiana Library Association's Disaster Relief Fund. LLA set up the fund to help build back libraries that were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Thank you to the schools and libraries that hired me this week. If you're a Louisiana school or public library that would like to participate in my next fundraising tour, please email me from my contact page.

If you live in Louisiana, I hope you'll consider attending one of my events that is opened to the public. Here's where I'll be:

Tuesday, April 8, 6:30 pm

Calcasieu Public Library
Central Branch Library
301 W. Claude Street
Lake Charles, LA 70605

Thursday, April 10, 10:45 am

Rapides Parish Library Event
Glenmora Elmentary School
1518 7th Ave
Glenmora, LA 71433

Thursday, April 10, 1:00 pm
Rapides Parish Library Event
Dramatic Arts Building
1414 7th Ave
Glenmora, LA 71433

Friday, April 11, 4:00 pm
Lincoln Parish Library
910 N. Trenton
Ruston, LA 71270

Saturday, April 5, 2008


The Arkansas Literary Festival proved fun and organized. Every turn I made, someone was offering to help me. Jill Martin drove me to the Author Dinner, then insisted on picking me up in the morning to drive me to the museum where I spoke this morning. Tricia Spione with the museum arrived extra-early to make sure the PowerPoint equipment was set up in the room. Marvel with That Bookstore in Blytheville handled the book signing with ease and grace. Louise Terzia got me safely back to my hotel.

If that wasn't enough, author Alexandria LaFaye and her friend Yvonne took me to lunch and kept me company with industry talk. I even got to hear Jacques Couvillon speak about his book, The Chicken Dance. He spoke from the heart about his journey to getting published, then charmed the audience with a reading from his book. (Since in our picture together, Jacques looked darling and I didn't, I cropped the photo so that my squinty right eye didn't show.)

Thank you Mary Gay Shipley for suggesting me as a speaker and Jennifer Chosich-Hill for all your help. I had a rocking-good time in Little Rock.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Wednesday I had the honor of giving the first de Grummond Lecture at the Children's Book Festival held at the University of Southern Mississippi. My talk was titled "The Power of Eating: How a Few Good Meals Saved Two Books."

I'm always a bit nervous when I start to speak to educators. I don't know why because they're usually my best audiences. This group welcomed me with warmth and enthusiasm. Shortly into my talk, I relaxed and enjoyed the experience.

Later that afternoon, Ellen Ruffin, Director of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection gave me a tour of their exhibits. As a writer who is fascinated by process, you can only imagine my joy at viewing some of H.A. and Margaret Rey's work. Ellen's tour made me realize that all my notes and manuscripts stored away in boxes could have another life.

Yesterday I headed off to Little Rock for the Arkansas Literary Festival this weekend. After two flats, changing out my rental car, rescheduling my flight, almost running out of gas, and getting randomly picked for a TSA search, I made it. I thought it couldn't get any worse. Then I awoke to find out that a tornado had swept through Arkansas. Many folks in the area witnessed a lot of damage. The news really put my bad day into perspective.

Picture notes: (Ellen Ruffin, Director of the de Grummond Collection(center) writer, Virginia Butler(right).

A USM student's art that I stumbled upon. She told me it was the cast of Sweeny Todd.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Twenty-one years ago, today, was one of my happiest days on earth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


One of the best things about being in this business for ten years is that you meet up with familiar faces now and then. Many have become friends. Coleen Salley, author of the Epossumondas books is one such person. I started my spring tour Sunday by staying with her at her New Orleans French Quarter apartment. In the morning, Coleen served fresh squeezed orange juice in her courtyard before we headed to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait.

For years, Coleen has been a cheerleader for children's writers and illustrators. (She's even helped resurrect out-of-print books.) The names of many talented folks grace a door and some wood work in her apartment. My bed faced one side of the door and it was a delight to awake in the morning, reading the autographs of many book creators that I love--Janet Stevens, David Small, Sharon Creech among them. A visit to Coleen's guarantees to become a treasured memory.

Virginia Butler is another person who keeps crossing my path. We met nine years ago at the Louisiana SCBWI conference. She invited me to visit her school in Leesville for a week of writing workshops. I told Virginia that I learned more from her that week than what I offered her students. That first workshop day, I told her students that I wanted them to write their first draft by hand. Groans scattered through the classroom.

Later when Virginia and I were alone she graciously mentioned, "These young people are as comfortable with a keyboard as you and I are with pen and paper."

It was an important lesson. And every workshop I give, I remember her comment.

Virginia lives and writes in Hattiesburg now with her husband, Al, who happens to make the best carrot cake in the world. I learned that in Leesville, too. Last night Virginia hosted a dinner, following the Honors Forum at the University of Southern Mississippi. And I celebrated the evening with a slice of Al's secret recipe.