Friday, January 30, 2009


Today I'm blogging at the southern authors blog, A Good Blog Is Hard To Find.

You can read my post, titled A Southern Writer Living in the West, by following the link below.

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Thursday, January 29, 2009


A few years back, Donald R. Gallo asked me to contribute to a short story anthology, Destination Unexpected. The story had to be a journey. In a sense, every story is a journey. My story, August Lights contains two--a walk around the golf course and a boy facing his feelings about his adopted sister.

Yesterday, Don informed me that the anthology was chosen as a YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adults in the category of Journeys. The writers who contributed stories can be found below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Today I'm guest blogging at TeachingBooks.Net. You can find my post, Tales of the Bossy, Boy-Crazy, No Fun Older Sister there.

Thanks, Danika Morphew-Tarbuck from TeachingBooks.Net for the invitation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I've been visiting schools for eleven years and I still enjoy them. That's why I'm sorry to say that as of today, I'm booked for the 2009/2010 school year. The only exceptions are October 26 and 27, 2009 for the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

If you are interested in booking me for the 2010/2011 school year, we are currently penciling in dates. You can contact me at

I'm still available for conferences and events during 2009/2010 and beyond.

Monday, January 26, 2009


What a morning! Whoever made it possible to watch the ALA awards live by computer, thank you. I'm happy for everyone. It's difficult to write a book and even more difficult to write a great book. Sometimes you feel like slices of you have fallen on the pages. How fabulous when excellent work is honored. That's why I'm glad there are more awards given. It gives more books a chance to be recognized.

Congratulations to everyone that heard their names called this morning. Kathi Appelt is a dear friend of mine. Those of you that follow this blog know she's the reason behind the writing retreat I attend every year. So right now, my buttons are popping, I'm so proud of her and having her book, The Underneath awarded a Newbery Honor.

If you missed my posts where Kathi talks about the process, you can read them again here:

Writing the Underneath: Part One

Writing the Underneath: Part Two

I also want to send a special shout out of congratulations to Laurie Halse Anderson on winning the Margaret Edwards Award. Aside from admiring her work, I will always appreciate Laurie for being so generous with some advice a few years back.

And to Hope Anita Smith for winning a Coretta Scott King Honor for Keeper of the Night Watch. I met Hope years ago because we share the same editor, Christy Ottaviano. I loved Hope's first book The Way a Door Closes. It's so exciting to see what she will do next.

To find the complete list of winners, go to the American Library Association's website

Saturday, January 24, 2009


My daughter introduced me to the music of Evangeline a few months ago. I think they have an incredible sound that pulls at my heart strings. According to their bio, Jeffery Armstreet and Jonathan Barrick met in the summer of 2005 and soon developed a close friendship around their love for songwriting, storytelling and the beauty of melancholy. I have a feeling we'll be hearing more about these talented guys.

We're Alright Down Here

To learn more about this group, visit their My Space page:


Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Want to join the fun and learn what's happening next with Piper before anyone else? Join Piper's Fan Club!

Piper Reed Navy Brat Fan Club

Congratulations Louann Mason from Garnet Valley, PA! You won a signed copy of Dancing in Cadillac Light.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today I'm thinking about a lot of things, but I'm thinking most about Mrs. Baylor. Mrs. Baylor was my third grade teacher. Along with teaching penmanship, and reading, and writing and math, she taught us about Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was 1968-69, a turbulent time. I'm not so sure any other teacher at that school would have taught us about those historical figures.

Being an American meant a lot to her. After Mrs. Baylor realized we didn't know the words to the Star Spangled Banner, believe me, we learned them. Back then there wasn't a holiday for Martin Luther King, but when the first anniversary of his death arrived, Mrs. Baylor didn't attend school that day. Her absence reminded us of the importance of one man.

Today I thank her. Because of the great Americans and their struggles that she introduced to our class, this day holds even more meaning.

Monday, January 19, 2009


When my daughter attended elementary school, I volunteered in her library. At the time, I was also working on my first book, My Louisiana Sky. The librarian was kind enough to let me read my manuscript to the fourth graders.

There is a scene in the book when Magnolia, a black housekeeper, accompanies Tiger on the bus. Since this was 1957, a year after the bus boycott ended, I remember struggling with where Magnolia would choose to sit. Because of her character, I eventually decided she would sit in the back. She was the kind of person who wasn't going to cause any trouble. And I suspected the process took a while to become a reality even though at that point blacks were legally allowed at that point to sit where they wished.

When I read that part to the students, they were confused. Why would she have to sit at the back of the bus. Even after I explained how life was back then for blacks, they couldn't grasp that life could have been that way. It pleased me to know we had changed to the point that these children couldn't comprehend this injustice was ever allowed.

No one can deny, this change had a lot to do with Martin Luther King, Jr and the people who followed his dream. Below is a bit from his last speech. It is so prophetic when you listen, knowing that he was assassinated the next day.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Piper Reed made an appearance today on Navy Dads blog. Navy Dads is a blog that supports sons and daughters serving in the U.S. Navy. Thanks for the plug, Navy Dad!

There are a few blogs I enjoy reading that celebrate the creative spirit. They aren't necessarily writing blogs, but they inspire me.

One belongs to Tracy Porter. I love Tracy's bohemian/refined approach to design. And she is so generous with suggestions. Her blog is filled with wonderful home and lifestyle ideas. Her frequent videos are fun to watch, too.

Do you dream of living in a little yellow cottage? Well Kim McCole lives that dream each day. She's nice enough to invite us inside her Dear Daisy Cottage.

I think the reason I love fabric designer Anna Maria Horner's blog so much is that she reminds me of my mom and her passion for fabric.

Take a look and enjoy!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


about Dancing in Cadillac Light:

1. Jaynell and Racine were adults before they were children. I first wrote about them in a short story called Alaska Fading which was published in Southern Humanities Review. In that story, Racine was the oldest.

2. The book was first a short story inspired by a writing exercise. In the writing exercise, I wrote about the contents in the characters' closets. Racine had a dancing outfit. That one article of clothing inspired Dancing in Cadillac Light, the short story. Later I developed it into a novel.

3. On my first book tour, my friend Kathy Patrick took me to a restaurant in Uncertain, Texas. I knew that I wanted my book to be set there. When I went back to research, Uncertain proved too tiny for the setting.(Although it does appear in the book). I chose nearby Karnack instead. But in the book, the town is referred to as Moon.

4. Grandaddy in the story is a former postman. I chose that because of the stories my grandfather told me about his mail routes when he was a rural postman.

5. My other grandfather would take me on walks through Butter's Cemetery. He knew about everyone who was buried there. I loved those walks because to me they were about life--the lives represented by the headstones. Those walks inspired the scene with Jaynell and her grandfather.

6. The scene where Racine triumphs at the dance recital was inspired by my sister and her violin recital. I used to avoid listening to my sister practice her violin. The screeching! When it was time to go to her recital I was embarrassed. Now I would have to listen to her screech in front of entire audience. But she was magnificent. Practice makes perfect!

Below are some of the illustrations from the German edition. I believe Maren Briswalter captured the spirit of the story.

****January Giveaway: A signed copy of Dancing in Cadillac Light. To enter the drawing, please send your SNAIL mail address to: The deadline is Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at noon central time. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Do you work at or attend a Texas Panhandle school that hasn't had an author or illustrator visit in three years? Applications are now being accepted for the Mitchell-Willis Scholarship. This scholarship, named in honor of my grandparents, J.P. and Henry Mitchell and Howard and Zora Willis, enables one chosen school to receive a school visit from me during Fall 2009.

The deadline for applying is March 15, 2009. The winning school will be chosen by April 1, 2009.

For more information: contact me at

Monday, January 12, 2009


There's a half-acre lot in our neighborhood where a house now stands. Fifteen years ago it was an apple orchard. My neighbors said every autumn, for a small price, they could pick all the apples they wanted--Granny Smiths, Rome, Goldens--the orchard offered plenty of variety. When we bought our home, I discovered remnants of those days. The inside of our kitchen cupboards bore apple recipes torn from Southern Living.

I looked forward to the time I could participate in the event, but a few months after we moved here, a FOR SALE sign went up on the lot. It sold long before apple-picking time. The new owners cleared away the trees to make room for their new home.

Even though I never got to pick any apples, I like to imagine those autumn days. Neighbors brought together, if only for an hour, to pluck apples from branches while they talked about what they planned to do with their bushel--bake a pie or an upside-down cake, or stir up a batch of apple butter. For a brief time maybe folks, who shared the same street, exchanged pleasantries, turning strangers into neighbors.
I wonder if any of their casual conversations led to friendships or perhaps just caused a loaf of applesauce bread to appear in a mailbox.

I wish I knew my neighbors better. I'd love to meet the woman in the turquoise house that picks up litter on her daily walks, the couple who sits in rockers in their driveway or the family who strung Christmas lights outside in October so they could celebrate the holiday with their son before he left for Iraq. We wave to each other as I drive by. We are, after all, neighbors. But I keep driving until I reach my home. Then I push the button of my garage door remote, park the car, and disappear inside. Electric garage door openers have kept us from knowing the people that live near us just as a modest apple orchard once threw open the gate of communication.

Who could have known the possibilities that could sprout from a mere half-acre?

Thursday, January 8, 2009


This morning I stayed a bit longer under the heated blanket. It wasn't because of the icy temperatures, but because everything I needed to do in the next couple of months started forming a list in my head.

I have two editorial letters for two books--the fourth Piper Reed and the historical novel. My editor assures me that there aren't many changes to be made, but I want to do my best. I read the new Piper to my daughter at Thanksgiving and cringed at some of the bumpy sentences(which is why it is important to read your work aloud.) Smoothing out sentences is one of my favorite things about rewriting. I feel confident that I'll meet the two week deadline.

Then I can turn my focus to my historical. Christy's letter arrived the day after Christmas and I immediately read it. I always look forward to what she has to say. The letter was a followup to our October lunch conversation during my New York visit. It is the second editorial letter on this book, the second round(not the second draft, of course!) so there is not much. I agree with everything that she's suggested I need to work on. That's not always the case, but usually our thoughts are compatible and I am always aware that she wants the best book just as I do. She challenges me to reach farther. And I love that challenge! The draft is due at the end of February.

Since it is a historical novel I'll dedicate a couple of reads with the facts in mind. I will question everything--the geography, the time, the details. That doesn't mean I won't miss something. Which is why a fact checker will also read the next draft I turn in. Then I'll address Christy's concerns.

Today though both manuscripts will have to be put on hold. I need to read Christy's notes on the third Piper Reed's final proof pages. I'll add my notes to it and then return the pages to her.

As I write this, I try to avoid the pile of reader correspondence on the corner of my desk. I'm not complaining. I love reader mail. But answering it is one more thing on the list.

This month I'm honored to have received invitations to write posts for two other blogs. So the last few weeks I've gathered thoughts in a notebook, but I haven't written the first sentences yet. Tic-toc, tic-toc. Can you hear the clock ticking my head?

This morning it feels overwhelming, but I have faith each item will be crossed off my list. The challenge will be trying not to succumb to M&M's. Barbara Walters once said, you have to have a reason to get out of bed. And I feel so lucky to wake up each morning and know I have good reasons to throw off the heated blanket.

Now to start on that list.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


If your goal is to start writing, you may no longer use time as an excuse. The One Minute Writer makes it easy to squeeze some writing into your life each day.

The blog offers a prompt and a timer. Of course, no one says you have to stop writing after one minute. And if you are already writing everyday, this could be a fun way to start your engine. That's how I plan to use it.

Today's prompt proves ironic. Pick up a pen and take a look:

One Minute Writer

Monday, January 5, 2009


I believe we move towards that which we think about. So I've always kept a notebook with goals and dreams. I read them often to make sure I'm staying focused and revise them when they no longer fit my life plan. But resolutions, resolutions seem like something entirely different. To me, resolutions seem to be more connected with who I want to be as a person, my humanity.

One of Merriam-Webster's definition of the word supports that idea:

res-o-lu-tion: the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones

Of course that could also apply to losing fifty pounds or finishing a manuscript by deadline, but I'd like to think a simple resolution could make huge differences in who I am as human being. So here it goes:

I resolve to be kinder--kinder to others and kinder to myself. It is a deceptively simple resolution. I can't control everything that will happen in my day. But I can choose how I react to it. Although I like to think that I'm a nice person, I've not always chosen kindness. This year I will try harder.

May your 2009 resolution come true.