Friday, July 31, 2009


Let's get swept off our feet!


August is the month of the middle child and you know what that means--PIPER REED Month! I'll be giving away Piper Reed books and CD's. And Square Fish Books has kindly offered to give a classroom set of Piper Reed the Great Gypsy to one lucky educator. So check back for details.

Also next week, author/illustrator, Laurie Keller will be our AT HOME profile. Laurie is one of my favorite picture book people. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about how her home feeds into her writing.

Until then, Happy Friday, good folks!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009


Today I'm continuing my answers to the young writer who wrote me with publishing questions. One of the questions she asked me about was getting an agent.

Should I get an agent before sending my work to a publisher?

One comment I hear often is that writers can't get an agent unless they have a publisher and they can't get a publisher because they don't have an agent. Now that creates quite a dilemma. It's as if you are staring out a window viewing the world you want to be a part of, but you can't quite find the opening. And I can sympathize. Before I sold my first book, I received more positive feedback from editors than I did from agents. Not that the editors were making any offers, but several of them asked to see my manuscript again if I rewrote. So I rewrote while querying agents. All of them responded with form rejections. The most personal one scribbled, "Nice idea, but not for me."

After I'd been sending out my story for about seven months, I heard an agent speak at a writing conference. I was impressed with the agent and the care she had for her clients. Unfortunately she didn't represent children's writers. Later I asked her if she knew of any agents that did and she gave me the name of another agent. I sent her a query letter and a couple of months later, I had an agent. Many conferences offer appointments with agents for their attendees. Usually those appointments go first. So register early.

I obtained my new agent because a friend kindly recommended me. By then I had several books under my belt.

A couple of sources for agents: If you are writing for children, join Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators/ For the price of the postage you can receive a list of agents who represent children's writers. And for all writers of all genres, check out a copy of 2009 Guide to Literary Agents.

Some more tidbits:

1. How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis is an excellent book for every writer(even if you already have an agent.) Not only does it explain advances, royalty payments and contracts, it also offers advice for finding representation.

2. A writer/agent relationship is a marriage of sorts. Make sure you have a mutual respect.

3. Never ever pay an agent to read your work or represent you.

4. Did I mention never ever pay an agent to read your work or represent you? I'm astounded how many smart people fall for flattering letters by "agents" who would love to represent them, if only the writer would pay a certain amount. Then they would help the manuscript get in shape and ready for publication. It's hard to get rejection letters, but please resist. No agent is better than a bad agent.

5. Just because you aren't one agent's cup of tea, doesn't mean another agent won't be enthusiastic about representing you. When you get turned down by one agent, move on. Don't get mad and waste anytime fretting.

Another question I received from the young writer concerned age.

Will I have a harder or easier time getting published because of my age?

Publishers don't care how old you are. They just want a good story told in an interesting way. If you happen to be very young or very old, your age might become a marketing asset. (After you sell the book.) But thank goodness unlike some fields, there are no age requirements or limitations.

I hope sharing these answers has helped some of you. At the very least, please know you are not alone looking out the window, longing to be a part of the writing world. The very first step toward getting published is easy. All you have to do is pick up a pen and begin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I'll continue my Letter to a Young Writer tomorrow, but today I'm blogging at the southern authors blog, A Good Blog Is Hard To Find.

My post is titled HOW 19 JOBS PREPARED ME FOR THE WRITING BUSINESS. Please join me there.

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Monday, July 27, 2009


During a recent visit, I turned onto my grandfather's driveway from Highway 112. The late afternoon light beaming through the branches looked so magical, I stopped the car and grabbed my camera. If I'd not known my grandfather's home waited around the bend, I could have thought the road was taking me anywhere.

When we start to write it's a little like that. We see the road stretching out before us, but we don't know what's around the bend. Pressing on the accelerator will not necessarily cause the journey to move quicker. By doing so, we may even miss the turnoffs.

Recently I received an email from a young writer. She was writing her second novel and wanted to know how to get published. I answered her questions, but I'm not sure they were the answers she was seeking. I hope she knows that I took her questions seriously. Since this was not the first time I'd received those questions, I thought I'd share the answers here this week.

What are the steps I need to take in getting my book published?

My answer is probably not going to be the one that you expect or want to hear, but the most important step on getting published is not making publishing the focus.

Writing a great story should be the focus of any writer. How do you that? Learn everything you can about the craft. Take writing classes. When I started I took continuing education classes offered by the local college and university.

Except for one class, all the classes were taught by published writers, writers who were still in the publishing game. Some wrote in different genres than I read, but I still listened to what they had to say. The beauty of taking a lot of classes is you will find out that not everyone thinks about the craft the same way. My first piece of fiction was a result of taking an intense two-week workshop from West Texas A&M. I'm sad to say they don't offer that workshop anymore because I grew a lot in those two weeks. Robert Flynn, Clay Reynolds, and Jerry Craven have a gift for writing as well as teaching. I'm proud to have learned from them.

Each of the teachers offered me some wisdom that I still use. Two of the Amarillo College classes, taught by Ivon Cecil were geared toward writing for children. I benefited in more ways than one from that class. A year after Ivon taught me, she invited me to attend her critique group.

Which brings me to my second point. Join a critique group. Ivon, Chery Webster, Pat Willis, and Carol Winn taught me a lot. They'd been meeting years before I joined their group, and their main focus was writing for children. I don't believe you have to be in a group that necessarily writes the genre you're writing, but I think they need to read and respect your genre. And you should read and respect theirs. Otherwise I think you are wasting your time. Critique groups can serve many purposes. One obvious reason is receiving feedback, but another is accountability. Knowing you have some folks waiting to read ten pages every week is a huge motivator. Over the years I belonged to a lot of groups. Some with too many people and sometimes it was just my pal Charlotte and me writing at the McDonald's. All of those minutes were like bricks paving my way to publication.

There are people you may never meet who can give you advice. I must have bought every writing book available at the bookstore. You can find a list of my favorites on my writing tips page.

The better writer you become, the better your chances are at getting published. Publishers are always looking for great talent and fresh new voices, no matter what your age. But you must be ready.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Signing books in bed, a stroll through Pete's Greenhouse, a visit to Art Walk at Sunset Center, arranging roses= Bliss before noon!

Friday, July 24, 2009


Let's go to a wedding(Thanks for this, Kathi Appelt)!


Oh what fun you will have!

Visit Seussville.


Yesterday the UPS man dropped off my first copy of Piper Reed Gets a Job. This one has a number 3 on the spine, reminding me that even though I'm working on number 5, it's the third story that will debut next month.

Here are some of the early reviews:

Piper Reed is back and is as charming as ever. This time, the spunky Navy brat is determined to earn enough money to purchase a clubhouse for her Gypsy Club. Unfortunately, being a birthday-party planner isn't as easy as she anticipated. Soon the fifth grader finds herself in over her head and still without any money. Can she pull it together in time to find a meeting place for the club members, or will they forever be stuck without a home? Occasional black-and-white line drawings capture the girls' expressions and antics. This book is a good addition to the series and is also a natural for fans of Clementine or Judy Moody, as well as readers ready to step beyond Junie B. Jones.
-- Elizabeth Swistock, Jefferson Madison Regional Library, Charlottesville, VA
School Library Journal

To earn money for a clubhouse where she and her friends can meet outside her crowded home, fifth grader Piper Reed sets herself up as a party planner, substitutes for her babysitting older sister and illustrates her younger sister’s book. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t turn out the way she imagines. Fans of the series will recognize Piper’s family and friends, but new readers can just as easily begin with this third volume. They will recognize her disappointment when the school year begins and she finds herself in the same old classroom, sympathize with her frustration when the only person left for the important biography report is Cyrus McCormick (someone even the librarian has never heard of) and admire the way she almost manages to juggle all her looming deadlines. Although the siblings have the usual disagreements, this is a warm and supportive Navy family, and Piper’s friends, the Gypsy Club, work well together. This is another successful entry in what has become a solid chapter-book series. (Fiction. 8-10)
Kirkus Reviews

Though she hopes that fifth grade will bring a fresh start, Piper faces disappointment at school, where she
struggles with procrastination as well as dyslexia. Meanwhile, she leads her friends in a project to raise
money for a clubhouse, but her efforts at both babysitting and party planning go awry on one disastrous
afternoon. Here, as in the other chapter books in the Piper Reed series, Holt balances serious moments
with wit and creates a convincingly childlike sensibility throughout most of the episodic story. Appearing
on most double-page spreads, Davenier’s lively drawings help bring the characters to life.
— Carolyn Phelan

Thursday, July 23, 2009


If you're a writer, it's easy to get caught up in life between the pages. But sometimes stepping away for a bit feeds the soul and eventually the craft. Yesterday, I worked at pals Charlotte and Daphne's booth, The Shoppe. I had a lot of fun selling their one-of-a-kind jewelery to the educators at the Region 16 conference. Today it's back to Piper, but last night I dreamed of teachers returning to school adorned with colorful beads and silver.

(Cheri on the left, Charlotte on the right)

Last year I wrote about Charlotte and Daphne's shop in my post A PLACE OF THEIR OWN

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Sign the petition to help make it happen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Picture this—a young woman applies for a job that she believes might be a good way to spend her day. The interviewer informs her, "You have a lot of potential, but you’re not ready for this. Think of our company down the road.”

And so she does. Every year or so, reapplying whenever the position is open. Every time, she's told the same thing—“You're not ready yet.”

She takes other jobs, gaining experience, never forgetting her dream job. Eventually she convinces the employer to hire her on probation.

The job is hard. She almost gives up. Who did she think she was to have such a job? She considers quitting, but one day wakes up and decides no matter what, she will prove to herself that she can handle it.

Some days take her to task, but there is also joy in the process. A few months down the road the boss calls her into his office. She fears the worst, but he announces that he’s pleased with her performance and if she wants the job permanently, it's hers.

That’s the way it was for me and writing The Dowser’s Son. The main character, Amos, entered my life the summer of '97. The story was about dowsing, but it was not this story. I don't regret the time put in with that book because it led to writing The Dowser’s Son . That journey had frequent stops and detours. I wrote other books. Each time I finished, I returned for another attempt.

Recently Christy and I talked about my struggle and we both agree. I wasn't ready to finish this story earlier because I wasn't capable of writing it then. I almost put it aside one more time, but then I told myself if I did that again, I should put it away forever. Otherwise it would always be the book I couldn't write. Giving myself that ultimatum made me truly commit to finishing. There were days I wanted to quit, but I didn't(sometimes that was because my husband, daughter, or friends told me I could accomplish this story.)

Last week I received the galley for the book. Somehow I'd made it to the final stage. It was also the stage when I could make changes for the last time. Shannon and Jerry kindly read the story for the last time, too. I finished at 4:45 Thursday afternoon and drove to the UPS store to make copies. As I finished the task, rain started to pour down in sheets, a rare occurrence in the Panhandle. The weather fit my mood.

Driving though the storm, I headed to FED-EX, reflecting on my journey with Amos. This was the end of the road and I was telling him goodbye. A peace mixed with sadness stirred in me. It was a bittersweet moment leaving that package on the counter.

Each book I write teaches me something. The Dowser’s Son taught me that writers sometimes must wait to write a story. If I’d only known that earlier on the path, I would have saved myself a lot of anguish. But that’s usually the way with life's important lessons, isn't it? We sometimes start off confident that we know the destination, and are quickly knocked down a few pegs. Then when we pick ourselves up and weather the storm, we look back and realize we didn't even notice the clouds rolling in. We were too busy chasing the sun.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


If it's Tuesday, this must be a Piper day. That's the way my life has been the last month or so. I was rewriting the fifth Piper when The Dowser's Son galley arrived. Turn around time: 1 week. So with the Piper manuscript tucked away, I turned my attention to The Dowser's Son. This was an important step--the last time I could make changes.

After sending the galley to Christy, I focused on the acknowledgements for the book. There are always so many people to thank. Then I took the weekend off and yesterday switched my gears back to Piper.

Lately I've felt like an obit columnist, but it seems the older I get, the more people I know or admire or dear to loved ones die. Last week my friend Lois "Sug" Grant lost her young son-in-law to complications caused from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. He left behind a young wife, daughter and step-daughter.

And Sunday, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Frank McCourt left this world. I listened to Angela's Ashes on audio while I was on a book tour for one of my first books. McCourt's soothing voice kept me company as I drove the Louisiana highways and back roads. Somewhere between Winnfield and Monroe I became so caught up in the story that I got lost. Months later I picked up the book and got lost again.

Soon after, I had the pleasure of meeting McCourt during the authors breakfast at the 1998 Texas Book Festival. He was lovely and gracious. I was giddy and starstruck. I wish I'd been more sophisticated and calm. I'm certain I scared the man. But he was unaware of the time we'd spent together on lonely Louisiana back roads. So many times, I've thought of how I would act differently, but this week, I've left those regrets behind. I'm just happy I had the chance to meet him in person. In Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt wrote about his poor Irish childhood. It occured years ago on the other side of the world, but McCourt's moving memoir made this reader wonder about the plight of hunger today in my backyard.

If you haven't read any of his books, please head down to your local bookstore or library. Until then, here's an interview with Frank McCourt on the topic of writing about poverty.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

JULY 20, 1969

Could it have been 40 years ago?

Lets do it again!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009


It started with a story about water.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009


Let's celebrate Camille Pissarro's birthday!


I'll be back with a post. Meanwhile have a great weekend!


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Friday, July 3, 2009


Happy 4th of July. Let's take a field trip!


about living in the Texas Panhandle is the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon

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Thursday, July 2, 2009


While I piddle with my plants, I think about other writers who spent time in the garden.

Eudora Welty shared the love of gardening with her mother. And the love spilled over into her work.

Bloom was everywhere in the streets, wisteria just ending, Confederate jasmine just beginning. And down in the gardens! — they were deep colored as old rugs in the morning and evening shade. Everybody grew some of the best of everybody else's flowers…

Eudora Welty

From her short story, Kin.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The summer giveaway is going strong at our local grocery store. For the last month whenever the cashier asks, "Are you playing our game?" I tell her, "Yes."

She hands me a card or two and I drop them into my purse.

Yesterday I asked the cashier, "Is anyone winning yet?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Someone won the motorcycle yesterday. All the winners are listed on the wall."

That's all it took for me to hurry home and turn my purse upside down. I shook out three. There had to be more than that. I dug through the kitchen junk drawer and checked under books on my nightstand. Can you believe one was being used as a bookmark? Good grief. Opportunity tucked between pages.

I hounded Jerry and Shannon. Shannon handed me six. Had I sent her to the grocery store that many times?

Jerry shrugged and continued reading his book. "I don't have any."

"Are you certain? You sure go to the grocery store a lot."

"I'm not hiding them."

"Okay, I said, "but we're one ticket away from a year's worth of fuel prize."


This morning he found four tickets.

I know how to speak this man's language. You don't live with someone for twenty four years and not know what motivates a person.

It is 9:00 in the morning. I'm supposed to be checking some notes on a map for the historical novel. Instead I'm licking tiny little pieces of paper and fixing them on a game sheet.

But how can I stop? I am one ticket away from the fuel, an IPod, an Apple laptop, and two dollars cash. If only I had one more ticket.

I just remembered. I forgot to buy pine nuts and coffee.