Thursday, April 30, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

I have a dedicated office-studio space. It's very important for me to have an "office" to go to. It's quiet so if I want to play the piano early on a weekend morning or late at night, no one will hear me. It's a great space for thinking and sitting quietly too.

What time of day would we find you there?

I like to be in my office by 9 am before distractions of the day pull me away from creative thought. I'll usually take a break mid-afternoon, maybe pick up the kids at school or run some errands. Then I like to go back into my office for about an hour or so at the end of the day.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work?

Hmm, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate...

How does home feed into your work?

My family life has always been a great catalyst for my need to make music, whether as a means of expressing teenage angst or getting inspiration from time spent with my own kids. When my son was in grade school he did a project on insects. We were out together observing one day and I got a title idea for a song, Cocoon. Steve Wariner and I wrote the song and Steve recorded it. He changed the title to Steal Another Day. But to me it will always be an insect song!

Billy Kirsch's talents as a performer and songwriter have earned him a respected place among contemporary songwriters. His body of work includes award winning songs and career songs for the artists who have recorded them. Holes In The Floor Of Heaven recorded by Steve Wariner, won a Country Music Association song of the year award, was nominated for a Grammy award and was a number one hit. The list of artists who have recorded Billy's songs include Tim McGraw, Rodney Atkins, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Englebert Humperdink, Lee Greenwood, Collin Raye, Steve Wariner and Wynonna to name just a few.

Visit Billy's Website.

Did you catch Rebecca Kai Dotlich's AT HOME profile?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I met Billy Kirsch because of muffins. When Skinny Brown Dog came out, Donald Saaf and I decided to send muffins to some of the booksellers who would be carrying the book. Donald had designed a fun label that read, A Gift from Benny and Brownie's Baker. We were looking for a bakery willing to place the labels on top of the boxes before mailing them. My first attempt at contacting a bakery failed. They just didn't understand going the extra-mile to do something special.

Then I called The Wild Muffin. Billy Kirsch answered. As a songwriter who also handles the marketing for his wife Julie Simpson's muffin company, Billy understood going the extra-mile.

During that conversation, Billy told me his family had read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. And I also learned that he wrote songs. After we hung up, I did a search on the Internet and found out Billy Kirsch was not a struggling artist. He was an award-winning songwriter of many songs that I'd listened to and enjoyed. You never know who will be on the other end of the phone line.

I'm glad Billy agreed to do an At Home profile. Since he is our first songwriter, I thought you might also want to know a little more about him and his process.

Can you pinpoint a moment in your life when you decided to write songs?

I've never thought of it as a conscious decision, but rather a natural way of expressing myself. I remember my first song at age seven, I sang it at my oldest brother's Bar Mitzvah, funny!!!!

What was the breakthrough moment for you? The first time someone decided to record your song?

My breakthrough moment was getting a phone call telling me that Kenny Rogers was headed into the studio to record a song I had pitched to his record company. There's nothing like the excitement of that first official validation.

Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio?

I was in the parking lot of a restaurant, just leaving with take out food for the family. Wynonna's recording of "Is It Over Yet" came on the radio and I got very emotional. I'm playing the piano on that record. After years of being a journeyman pianist, I think hearing my piano playing on the radio was more emotional for me than knowing I had written the song.

Can you walk us through the process of writing one of your songs?

From inspiration to finished draft? My best songs start from a very stream of conscious, or sub-conscious place. If I get a melody and first verse that moves me, I usually hang in for the long haul. For me that means writing and re-writing. I believe the best songs are short stories, but I don't have the luxury of writing even twenty pages to tell a story. So I like to make sure every line of lyric contributes to the story unfolding and the emotional message I want to convey. Most of my best songs have lots of lines I've discarded. When I get a lyric I'm happy with I'll continue to tweak the melody and music to make sure the music mirrors the emotional content of the lyric.

Join us tomorrow when Billy Kirsch gives us a glimpse of his work life at home.


Will you be at IRA in Minneapolis next week?

If so, I hope you will drop by my signing or attend my presentation. Here's the scoop:


Henry Holt booth 840

Tuesday, May 5

10:00-11:00 am

Books for Girls on the Verge of Adolescence Symposium

Hilton Salon C

Wednesday, May 6

9:00-11:45 am

Other presenters: Claudia Katz, Carolyn Hennesy, Suzanne Slefors, Melissa de la Cruz, Ally Carter, LD Harkrader, Susan Bohman

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Last night I heard Maya Angelou speak. Our small group chatted the entire way as we rode together to the West Texas A&M campus for the lecture. Charlotte, Daphne and I sat in the back. Lauren drove and Megan rode shotgun. A couple of generations were represented in that car. Still we found lots to talk about--what was going on in our work lives, intolerance of litterers and Megan's dream of becoming a veterinarian.

But on the way back our conversation centered mainly around Dr. Angelou and her talk about finding rainbows in the clouds despite her difficult childhood. We all agreed to being amazed at the enthusiasm she still shows for life and speaking, even at the age of 81 years old.

Since National Poetry Month is coming to a close, I thought I'd post the poem she's known most for. May you find rainbows in your clouds.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Monday, April 27, 2009


This morning I awoke with a feeling of gratitude--thankful for a good night's rest and for the last few days in Columbia, South Carolina. I will always remember the good folks there and the wonderful event they invited me to. The Richland County Public Library's A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen pays tribute to storytelling and honors its namesake.

Augusta Baker worked in the New York Public Library system for 37 years. She held various jobs there including coordinator of children's services and storytelling specialist. In 1980 she moved to Columbia, South Carolina and became the University of South Carolina's storyteller-in-residence. She retired in 1994. Augusta Baker died on February 23, 1998, but not before witnessing A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen. One person truly can make a difference.

Augusta Baker believed in the oral approach to storytelling, the kind of stories that are passed from person to person. One of the founders of the event told me that they took her to lunch one day to discuss the event they wanted to do in honor of her. That was 23 years ago and the event has been a success every year. Each April over a thousand fourth graders from around the city gather to hear stories. Before they leave, they hear five to six stories told by librarians and a few other book-loving folks who have invested time preparing by taking storytelling workshops. Some of the stories come from books and some come from the porch. Here I am with the wonderful folks behind this great event.

That night before my talk, the Dutch Fork High School Players, a readers theater group, performed a collage of scenes from four of my books. They were beautifully woven together by their director, Dr. Cynthia Seel. Such talent in that group! I was deeply touched by their performance.

Saturday the event wrapped up outside the library with more storytelling open to the public. Who doesn't love to hear a good story?

Thank you Ginger Shuler for inviting me. Thank you Leslie Tetreault,Heather McCue, Dee Robinson, Jenny Dilworth, Laura Kennelt and everyone else who made me feel so welcome and that worked so hard. I had a blast!

A couple of weeks ago I neglected to mention that Anastasia Suen named A Pen and a Nest her Blog of the Week. Anastasia has written 114 books for young children. She has also become the Queen of Blogs, authoring several herself. How does she do it???? Thank you Anastasia for honoring my blog.

If you want to know more about Anastasia visit her website:

Anastasia Suen's website

I hope each of you experiences gratitude today.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I've attended a lot of events over the last decade, but the (A)gusta Baker's Dozen in Columbia, South Carolina is at the top. Some folks have worked very hard to make things go so smoothly. And talk about Southern warmth. I feel so lucky to have been asked to participate.

Wish you were here!


Thursday, April 23, 2009


My bag is packed again. This time I'm heading to A(gusta) Baker's Dozen in Columbia, South Carolina. If you live there, I hope you will attend. If not, I'll send you a postcard from the road. Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy a glance back at the AT HOME profiles. These were the first folks to let us visit their nests. In the future, I plan to visit quite a few more.

Kathi Appelt

Hope Anita Smith

Tracy Porter

Gabi Swiatkowska

Jen Bryant

Janet Burroway

Donald Saaf

Robert J. Ray

Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


My editor's Victorian home oozes with charm. I haven't visited her there in a few years, but in December The Westport Minuteman dropped by to celebrate the home's 150th anniversary. I thought you might want to join in on the party.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Travis, I hope you don't mind, but I'm answering your comment from the post below here because I think a lot of people feel like you do.

First, I'm sorry if my opinion caused pain. I didn't mean to sound harsh. Actually I wanted to encourage those folks who are trying to get published, to tell them that doors are ready to swing open for them. If they are ready. But I should have also added that not having an agent and trying to sell in a recession do make it harder to get published.

With my first book, I sent queries to agents at the same time that I sent my manuscript to publishers. More editors were interested in my story than agents. Only one agent asked to see the manuscript. By the way, I never counted those other agents' rejections. I'm sure the total would have depressed me.

Every time I got rejected, I knew in my gut that my writing wasn't there yet. So I kept rewriting. I kept taking classes, reading books, listening to other writers. It doesn't mean I took all of their advice. Because a lovely thing happens along the journey of becoming a writer. We begin to trust our own instincts. That is growth.

Unpublished writers today need to think outside the box. They should attend reputable conferences and take advantage of those agent and editor appointments. That's one way around the roadblock to unsolicited manuscripts.

We're in a difficult market right now, but it will pass. And even in this market, editors go to work every day. They read manuscripts. Yes, many of them are from established writers, but they want to find new voices, too.

Never give up. You can be that voice.

But when writers receive rejection after rejection after rejection, they may need to take an honest look at their work. They may need to admit the problem lies there.

Picture Note: I posted Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) because I thought of him often when I pulled my returned envelopes from the mailbox. Geisel received more than twenty rejections before And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street was accepted.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Last week college student, Nicki Carr, interviewed me for a class project. I thought her questions were great and since I can't always reply in time for end of the year author studies, I posted her interview here.

1. How long did it take to get your first book published from the time you finished writing it?

I started writing my first book, My Louisiana Sky, the summer of 1994. I wrote the first draft very quickly, but it took me three and a half years to rewrite.

2. What was the hardest part about getting your work published?

Learning the craft. Getting published usually comes down to writing a good story. Some people want to think they aren't getting published because of other things--the market, where they live, the fact that they don't have an agent. No matter what the market climate is like, editors are always looking for good stories.

Shortly after I started writing I attended a writers' conference. An editor and an agent were among the lineup of speakers. But I didn't attend their sessions. I wanted to hear the writers. I wasn't ready to learn the publishing end yet. I had to learn to write first.

3. How many publishers said no before you finally found one?


4. What is the biggest challenge about writing for a living?

Learning to be my own boss. That takes discipline. When you work at home, there is always something else that can be done--laundry, dusting, vacuuming. Thank goodness, I'm a terrible housekeeper.

5. What is the biggest reward?

Writing a great sentence. Nothing beats that thrill, not even getting published.

6. Where do you write, and do you have a favorite spot to write?

At home, I tend to write in my bedroom, most of the time in my club chair with my dog at my feet, but if it's cold I write in bed under a heating blanket. Sometimes, when the weather is nice, I write on the screen porch. And a couple of times a week, I go to a coffee shop and write.

7. Have you ever written anything other than books professionally? If so for whom?

A novel is a long process. I believe it helps a new writer to work on shorter pieces, too. Seeing my byline early on, helped build my confidence as a writer. I've had a few essays, articles, and short stories published. My essays appeared in gardening magazines, all of which are out of print now. The articles were in children's publications such as Guideposts for Kids, Spider Magazine,and Dynamath. My short stories were published in literary magazines-- Concho River Review, Southern Humanities Review and a few others.

8. What media do you use to promote your books?

My publisher has a marketing department, but I also do an email blitz and a postcard mailing to announce my new books.

9. Where do you draw inspiration for your books?

Most of my ideas come from moments in my childhood. If you peruse my website, you'll find the inspirations for each of them.

10. How much time on average do you spend writing per week?

It depends. When I'm writing a first draft, I don't spend very much time writing daily, maybe two hours. If I go longer than that, the story becomes stale. I want to stay excited about the next day's writing session and that means quitting early. When I rewrite, I can write 6 or more hours a day. The more drafts I've finished, the more time I tend to spend on the maunuscript. When I get into final draft stages, (my favorite part), I lose track of time. At that point, it's polishing.

11. How much of your time is spent researching your work?

It depends on the book. I research as I go. The historical I just finished required more time than I've ever spent. Some of the research meant visiting the setting and museums. And I read a lot of journals and books about the time period.

When I wrote Keeper of the Night, I returned to Guam to research. That was an expensive trip, but well-worth it. As a child, I'd lived on Guam, but I needed to go back as a writer and learn the Guam of today.

Each book has required research, but the historical required more. Although the first time I turned it in, my editor had to remind me that I wasn't writing nonfiction. I had neglected the characters and the story. Too much of my research showed. Her comment made me relax and when I revised again, I cut out a lot of that research and developed my characters and the story.

12. How do you deal with writer's block?

I have a few ways of dealing with it. (I go over this on my writing tips page on the website.)

My Writing Tips Page

13. Do you have any other info or advice for someone pursuing a career as a writer?

Write everyday. Read everyday. Notice the things that others don't notice. Love the craft more than the idea of being published.

Nicki Carr attends Amarillo College where she is majoring in English. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories and has been attempting to write a book for the last five years of her life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I don't know how I missed seeing this movie over the years, but I'm so glad I caught it the other morning on TCM.

Born Yesterday, staring Judy Holiday and William Holden, tells the story of a crook's ditsy girlfriend becoming educated. With humor, this 1950 film reminds us of the power of knowledge. And after watching it, I'm a new fan of Judy Holiday. Thank you, Turner Classics!

Friday, April 17, 2009


Let's tend to the roses!


Congratulations, Pleasant Valley Elementary School of Amarillo, Texas! You are the winner of the second Mitchell-Willis Scholarship. As winner, they will receive a free school visit from me. Named in honor of my grandparents, Henry and J.P. Mitchell and Howard and Zora Willis, I created this scholarship to give back to schools in my backyard.

If you are a Texas Panhandle school(who hasn't had an author or illustrator visit in four years) and would like to apply for the scholarship in the 2010/2010 school year, please contact me at:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

I have a small bedroom upstairs that became my
writing room about 10 years ago. It has a small window
that overlooks the backyard, and in the winter and early
spring I can see a rambling creek. Sometimes deer.
In my writing room are lots of built in shelves with
poetry and picture books, biographies, books sent to me
by friends, family photographs and clay castles and turtles
my children made when they were young. This is where
I keep dozens of colorful sharpies, my computer, fax, and
files. It is where I am most hours of the day and night.
Unless I'm with grandchildren. Or in schools. Or at the
movies. Or cooking. (Just kidding on that one.)

What time of day would we find you there?

Early morning is my favorite time. Quiet. That
first cup of coffee. That energetic feeling that I
get when my brain just perks up and thinks it
just might accomplish something.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work?

Leftovers. I love leftovers for lunch. And anything
with noodles or pasta. A little warmed chili, spaghetti,
lasagna. But I also unfortunately like to snack on
Good n' Plenty candy. And sometimes, in the summer,
a few barbecue potato chips! Coffee in the morning.
Tea in the afternoon. And this new juice I am obsessed
with over crushed ice. Juicy Juice Tangerine Orange.
Anytime. And yes, sometimes a sliced apple or red
pepper. If I'm trying to be good.

How does home feed into your work?

Home is where I, like most people, feel safe
and comfortable. I love to nest. I have since I was
a little girl. Love all my treasures close by so that I
can take a moment and stare at them whenever I want.
Family pictures, old books, notes and letters. So all that
seems to calm me. Getting much writing done isn't
easy for me when I travel. Unless it is quick snippets
in my word journal(s). When my children were young
I got in the habit of writing in small snatches of time
while they were playing and coloring and their voices
were my background music. I still miss that. I love the
quiet, but would trade it for those small voices anyday.

Rebecca is a poet and picture book author of such titles as What is Science? (a 2006 Subaru SB&F prize finalist), and Lemonade Sun (an American Booksellers "Pick of the Lists"). Her work is featured widely in poetry anthologies and textbooks. Rebecca promotes children's poetry, giving presentations and workshops to students, teachers, librarians and writers.

Her newest picture book is Bella & Bean.

Visit Rebecca's Website

Two more AT HOME profiles:

Robert J. Ray

Donald Saaf

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Please don't tell Rebecca Kai Dotlich this, but I love to watch her work. Rebecca and I met six years ago at the first writing retreat that Kathi Appelt put together at her family's Texas ranch. That second day we all found our places to write. Rebecca's place became one end of the dining table. This is a high traffic area because one must pass the table to get to the kitchen where brownies, pie, and coffee pot await.

This intrusion doesn't seem to bother Rebecca. She is a friendly little worker, usually looking up from her page when we pass, smiling or softly asking, "How is it going?"

That doesn't mean she isn't working. She is probably trying to catch the right word. Because the right words mean a lot to Rebecca. Sometimes if we are really lucky, we can witness the moment of captivity. Her eyes grow wide, she smiles as she types, and her head does a little dance as she reads what she just wrote. Is there any wonder I delight in stealing peeks as she crafts?

Rebecca is a poet and keeps notebooks of words. The results have been wonderful books such as Lemonade Sun,

Over in the Pink House,

What is Science?,

and Peanut and Pearl's Picnic Adventure.

Last month her new book, Bella and Bean arrived, causing quite a buzz. Let me give you a short synopsis. Bella is a serious poet. Bean is her well-meaning fun-loving friend who doesn't seem to understand how hard it is to find the right word.

This story is a lovely tribute to the creative process and friendship. In real life, Rebecca makes both of those things seem so easy.

Tomorrow you, too, can steal a peek of how Rebecca works. Please join us then when Rebecca Kai Dotlich becomes our next AT HOME profile.

Monday, April 13, 2009


There is nothing like the first time. Your heart races when it happens. You try to freeze the moment, to keep that feeling of elation with you forever, but eventually the buzz wears off and you are left with a sentimental memory. I'm not talking about a first kiss. I'm referring to the first time a writer sees their name in a byline.

I still remember that day in 1995 when I received the letter from The Flowerlover, a magazine devoted to garden essays. The letter stated they wanted to publish my essay Step Gardening. When I opened the envelope my husband and seven-year-old daughter were outside. I ran into the front yard to tell them the news. My husband hugged me. Then my daughter and I locked hands and jumped and jumped. No trampoline needed. The neighbors must have thought we won the lottery.

The Flowerlover is no longer in print, but they will forever be remembered by me. Because that day I received the good news, it felt like I had won the lottery. Since our planting season begins officially this week, I thought I'd share the essay with you. Please be kind in your judgement. Remember this was my first.

Tell me about your first.

(Please feel free to read and direct other folks to this post, but please don't copy my work without my permission. Thank you.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Sorry Dancing with the Stars. I still love ya, but another show has made their way to my must-see number one spot. And wouldn't you know it? It's based on a book.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Let's Dance!


If your name is below, you won an advance copy of Piper Reed Gets a Job. And if you didn't, you're a winner anyway.

Thanks to all who participated. Entries came from three different countries and twenty-eight states. I wish I could have given each of you a book. Your comments about Piper warmed my heart. I'm so glad you are looking forward to her new adventure because I love writing about that fearless girl and her family.

Now, drum roll, please:

Aileen Kirkham from Tomball, TX

Brent Watson from Lewiston, ME

Brooke Cargill from Edmond, OK

Rosalie Oliver from New Boston, TX

Patti Garner from Amarillo, TX

Jackie Singleton from Shreveport, LA

Judy DiGregorio from Oak Ridge, TN

Michelle Price from San Antonio, TX

J. Patrick Lewis from Westerville, OH

Beverly Roy from Alexandria, LA

Deborah Elliot-Upton from Amarillo, TX

Debra Hale from Baton Rouge, LA

Sara Biren from Hanover, MN

Samantha R. Vamos from Kirland, WA

Pat Miller from Sugar Land, TX

Virginia McGee Butler from Hattiesburg, MS

Annette Nall from Amarillo, TX

Alexandra Yarrow from Ottawa, ON

Mary Morawski from Hoffman Estates, IL

Jennifer Pitts from Houston, TX

Cindy Wiedenhaft from Oshkosh, WI

Jeannie Machowski from Bossier City, LA

Cindy Hoppes from Edwardsville, IL

Jessica Davis from Columbia, SC

Arlene Sosta from Rockwall, TX 75087


Thursday, April 9, 2009


This week, Hope Anita Smith was invited to read some of her poetry on National Public Radio's show, Tell Me More. Hope read some powerful poetry from her new book Mother Poems.

In case you missed it, here's the link: Tell Me More with Hope Anita Smith.


If you live in the Columbia, South Carolina area, I hope you will attend
A(gusta)Baker's Dozen: A Celebration of Stories. Richland County Public Library's annual storytelling festival, cosponsored by the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science, brings to life the world of storytelling and children’s literature. The festival honors the works and achievements of nationally-known author and storyteller Augusta Baker, who moved to Columbia in 1980 and was appointed the Storyteller-in-Residence at USC.

I'll be speaking, but there will also be local and regional storytellers there to entertain you.

The festival will be held:

Friday, April 24 and Saturday April 25th

My talk is at 6:30, Friday night, but I'll also be on hand Saturday for signing. Held at the main branch, both events are free and open to the public.

For more information:

A(gusta) Baker's Dozen

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Where do you work best at home?
have a basement office

books, computer, workout mat, ankle weights

coffee stains, ballpoints, paper

messy desk

What time of day would we find you there?

work starts around 5 AM

stops around 7 AM

remember working 5 hours a day

a long time ago

What is your favorite comfort food while you work at home?

five AM snack is apple slices, almonds, coffee

How does home feed into your work?



workout mat

exercise stuff

classical music

no noise

unless the cat wants water

Robert J. Ray's Bio:

schooled in texas

high school


grad school

taught literature and writing in






met wife Margot in California

in an encounter group

with our shoes off

fell in love and got


wrote six novels before

getting one published

a tennis tale called

the heart of the game

followed by Cage of Mirrors

a thriller

followed by five books starring

PI Matt Murdock

which inspired me to combine

grad school with fiction writing

and write

three weekend novelist books

current project is a thriller

with three love stories

and the ritual slayings of bad guys

seeking, as always, the fragile

rebalancing of

Good Vs. Evil

Visit The Weekend Novelist website.

Two more recent AT HOME profiles:

Donald Saaf

Janet Burroway