MODELS is about an overweight eighth grade girl who gets entered into a beauty pageant for chubby teens and doesn't want to win. TOTAL TRAGEDY is about what happens when your family is obsessed with Shakespeare, your seven-year-old sister is a genius, and someone leaves mysterious origami pigs in your locker. NOTES features a cocky orchestral superstar who falls into marching band mayhem, and MOXIE is race-against-the-clock mystery set in Boston.
The books are available for purchase at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and other independent bookstores. Oh, and you can even get my books for FREE! Check them out of a library near you:
You can read about my writing process here (scroll down for new entries).
Thanks for coming by!!
The first time I attended the marathon, I was about 6. My dad took me to a spot on the route--somewhere in Hopkinton? Ashland? I don't really remember where we were, but it didn't matter because I was fascinated by watching thousands of people run by in their 80s short-shorts. Where were they going? Why was it going to take them so long to get there? Could I do that?
Fast forward through a dozen years, several moves, and most of my freshman year at Boston College. BC is past the top of Heartbreak Hill, at approximately mile 21 on the route. We cheered the runners on from Main Gate or Comm Ave. By that time, I knew that I wasn't a runner and would probably never muster the courage to jog more than a mile, let alone 26.2 of them. But that made me respect these people all the more. Their discipline. Their commitment. Their incredibly inspirational spirit. Their absolute craziness. Some people ran in costume, some ran hurt, some ran like it was the easiest thing they'd done all week and others like every step might be their last. But they were out there. My junior year, I lived off campus, right in Cleveland Circle--a block away from the route's curve from Chestnut Hill Ave onto Beacon Street that is so treacherous for wheelchair racers. That was also the Marathon's 100th year. The crowds were massive. There were thousands of extra runners. I remember watching from Beacon Street, screaming for racers to "Go! Go! Go! Four point two miles to go!"
When I graduated from BC, I moved to Brighton--the Commonwealth Ave side of Washington Street, where my roommates and I could walk down the street several blocks right into Washington Square to cheer on the runners. By that time, I was a marathon die-hard. I also learned the stories behind some of the runners, like the Hoyts. Dick Hoyt has run the marathon, pushing his son Rick in his wheelchair, almost every single year since 1981. This year, John Hancock Financial services commissioned and dedicated a bronze statue of the two of them at the starting line in Hopkinton. They were a mile away from the finish line yesterday when the explosions happened. Or Johnny Kelley, who competed in the marathon 61 times.
After living in Brighton for a couple of years, it was time to get my own apartment. I had a job in publishing, and a car, but I couldn't afford anything in the vicinity of the city. So I struck out along the marathon route--figuring that as long as people could run to Boston from where I lived, I wasn't too far away from the city that I worked in, hung out in, and loved. I ended up in Natick. My apartment complex driveway opened onto Rte 135--right at mile 8. And on Saturday mornings in March, the training groups would start showing up, dodging frozen puddles of mud, braving fickle New England temperatures, testing out the route. On Marathon Monday, I'd go out and watch the runners with my neighbors--and, one year, with my boyfriend's brother. But I never watched the marathon with my boyfriend.
See, my boyfriend at the time--now known as FabHusband--had his own Marathon Monday tradition: tickets to the Red Sox game. It's the only major league baseball game played at 11am on a Monday. So when the bulk of the runners are coming down Beacon St, through Kenmore Square, the attendees at the Sox game are there to greet them and cheer them on. We'd meet up later; I'd get the game recap and give him a summary of who I saw--Will Ferrell, Tedy Bruschi, the Hoyts, some guy dressed as a clown, whatever.
I had the crazy idea that I could run it.
No. Too crazy.
But I walked it. Twice? Three times? I did it as part of the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, raising money for cancer research. My friend Erica did it with me. It happens in the fall, not on actual marathon Monday, but it's on the actual route and oh my God, did I have an even greater appreciation for those who ran. I walked through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Chestnut Hill, Brookline, and into Boston. Holy moly, that's FAR. Those runners are AMAZING.
When FabHusband and I got married and bought our house--yeah. We're on the marathon route in Framingham. Our street empties out about a mile from Rte 135. And so I've gone: alone, with the dog, pregnant with CC, pushing her in her stroller and holding her hand. FabHusband still goes to the Sox game.
And then came last year. Bugger, my son, was barely three months old. My cousin had won her way to elite runner status in the Boston Marathon. We had a party at my house at 8am--my parents,aunts, uncles, cousins, her boyfriend, her boyfriend's dad--and went up the street to cheer her on, wheeling baby #2 in the stroller. She came in 15th for the women in 2012! Amazing. And this year, same thing: elite runner, bib F26. Her boyfriend had qualified, too, and was running with bib 1067. She finished 21st for the women, shaving 11 minutes off last year's time (last year a lot of elite runners were prepping for the Olympics); he finished in just over 3 hours, at 1:15. We are so proud of them.
They left the finish line at 2:30. Safely.
I'm heartbroken. Devastated. Angry. A day that is designed around the celebration of the human spirit, courage, and determination--a day designed for family and friends--a day that my favorite city celebrates joyously; destroyed. I'm furious that next year, and forever, there will be a shadow. A pall. There will be sadness and mourning and remembering. It shouldn't be that way. The sidewalk I've walked on hundreds--thousands--of times should not be splashed with blood and shown on the news. It should have been covered confetti and Dunkin Donuts cups that were whisked away over night--not frozen in a crime scene. Tufts and the Brigham and BI and Mass General and BMC should be treating shin splints and sprains, not shrapnel wounds. I should be able to scan the news coverage for shots of my cousin at the starting line (you could totally see her in the morning), not turning off the TV to hide this sorrow from my kids. I shouldn't be feeling grateful that everyone at my house yesterday went to Heartbreak Hill to cheer her on and skipped the finish line. I should be feeling proud of sharing this tradition with people who don't usually come to Boston.
I am thankful that the race volunteers, police and medical teams at the finish line reacted so quickly to triage and treat the wounded; and I am not surprised at the generosity of Bostonians offering shelter, and coats, and landlines and wifi and hugs and hand holding. The people who live here are good people.
I shouldn't have to write this today. I shouldn't have to remind you--and myself--of the wonderful parts of the marathon, that for 116 years was run in peace and with joy. You shouldn't have to feel sad, or shocked, or afraid to come here, or go out, or attend an event. We shouldn't need your prayers.
But we do.
And this is the thing with love stories. Sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes things go wrong, and you don't know why. And you learn to live with the hole in your heart, but it never goes away.
- Current Location:Panache Coffee
- Current Mood: sad
- Current Music:Dirty Water, The Standells
So, earlier today we learned that the FBI has some leads on the Gardner heist--you know, the theft of 13 priceless works of art from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? My July release, MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING is based on the theft. Moxie is feisty and smart, and comes from a very unusual family. When a stranger appears at her door, the visit launches her into a race against the clock to solve this decades old mystery.
But I'm not the only one writing about the theft. Kate Messner, author of so many fabulous books, including the Silver Jaguar mystery series, and I were drawn to an article in today's Boston Globe.
Here's the article headline:
FBI says it has identified the thieves in Gardner Museum heist; paintings’ location still unknown (read the article here)
Kate and I started tweeting back and forth as the news broke--her Silver Jaguar mystery series features a villainous international ring of art thieves--and we decided to take our conversation to our blogs. Here's a more formal look at her books and what she thinks about the theft at the Gardner 23 years ago:
• The Gardner Heist is referenced in almost all of your Silver Jaguar books, right? Can you tell me how, as an upstate New Yorker, you learned about and connected with this mystery?
The Silver Jaguar Society mysteries begin with CAPTURE THE FLAG, which came out this past summer. The books are about Anna, Henry, and Jose -- three kids whose families are part of a secret society to protect the world’s artifacts. The group’s arch rivals are a gang of international art thieves known as the Serpentine Princes -- criminal masterminds who are suspects in just about every unsolved art heist history has known, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist.
I was actually drawn to this heist when I started researching art thieves in history as I developed the characters in the Serpentine Prince gang. Two heists in particular stood out -- a stunning (and still unsolved) 1972 break-in at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the thefts at the Gardner Museum -- and there are mentions of both starting with the second book in the series, HIDE AND SEEK, which comes out next week. The connection grows in the third book, MANHUNT, which is coming in Spring 2014.
• I know you do a lot of on-site research for your novels. Did you tour the Gardner while you were writing the books in the series? What was something unexpected or interesting that you learned about the theft, or the museum, when you visited?
The third book in the Silver Jaguar Society Series is set in Boston and Paris, and I spent time in both cities researching the museums, other sites, and especially works of art that are woven into the plot. That included the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (and like you, I also did lots of reading and viewing - LOVED the documentary STOLEN!)
Two things really struck me about the museum -- first, those empty frames on the wall. They really do invoke a tremendous sense of loss. And the second thing that has really stayed with me is John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner herself. The painting is striking on its own, but I couldn’t help thinking about it in connection with the heist. She was there, in her museum, when the thieves sliced those canvases from the frames!
• What do you think happened to the art?
I was quite sure Vincent Goosen and the other Serpentine Prince members had stolen it until this week’s news broke from the FBI. Now I shall need to reevaluate... :-)
• Can you share an excerpt from one of the books that references the Gardner Museum and the empty frames?
Sure - and actually, in this scene, there is a new (fictional!) empty frame...
In MANHUNT, Henry visits the museum with his aunt the morning after a massive international art heist that resulted in the loss of more than a dozen works of art around the globe.
Aunt Lucinda’s stop turned out to be a seriously fancy-pants museum. “I can’t believe I’ve never brought you here,” she said as they walked through the big wooden door. “The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of my favorites.” She sighed. “It’s so sad you won’t get to see her.”
“Is she out of town or something?” Henry looked around at the chandeliers and sculptures.
“Oh, no. She’s been dead for nearly a hundred years,” Aunt Lucinda said, leading Henry upstairs and through a room full of paintings.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t need to see her then.”
“I wasn’t talking about seeing her in person,” Aunt Lucinda said, turning a corner. “I was talking about this.” She pointed to a plain brown frame that seemed to be showing off the wallpaper behind it.
Aunt Lucinda was getting weirder by the minute, Henry decided. “Is that, like, her ghost?”
“It was her portrait, Henry. Until last night.” Aunt Lucinda rummaged her in hand bag, pulled out a museum brochure, and flipped it open to a page with a painting of a tall lady in a black dress.
“She used to be in here?” Henry pointed to the empty frame.
Aunt Lucinda nodded and blinked her watery eyes. “I used to come stand in front of her when I felt like I needed wisdom or strength for a society mission.” She looked around quickly, then lowered her voice. “She was one of us, you know.”
“Oh!” Henry looked more closely at the lady in the brochure painting. Her eyes looked worried, as if she’d known all those years ago being painted that she’d be stolen some day.
• Kate, that is one of my favorite paintings! The Silver Jaguars better find it! Anything else that you want to add?
Just that I’m thrilled to have a fellow art heist geek sharing my excitement over this new development in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist. I so hope they find the art unharmed. If and when they do, I think we should make a date to take our books to visit the day it goes back on display.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: happy
Her tools? Her best friend, Ollie, a geocaching addict who loves to find stuff; her Alzheimer's suffering grandfather, Grumps, who knows lots more than he lets on; and a geometry proof that she sets up to sort out the clues.
It's a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she's ever lived by to find the art and save her family.
- Current Location:Panache coffee
- Current Mood: accomplished
- Current Music:REM, "The One I Love"
The drafting stuff I've talked about before, and will happily do another post about in another week, once I've forgotten the pain.
But I've never written about the guilt and awfulness.
Writing book takes time. Lots and lots of time. Time in front of a computer, outside of regular life. And when your regular life already consists of a full time job and two kids and a husband and a dog, guess when the writing happens? Around the margins. And most of the time, that works. I write at night, or while my oldest is at preschool and the younger one naps. But when a deadline looms, and there are parts of the plot that still need drafting and you hope to go through the whole book and do a revision before your editor sees it...well, the margins don't cut it anymore. So for the past month, I had to ramp it up: on days I wasn't teaching, I'd drop my preschooler off at school (leave the baby home with my husband), and go write. Pick up preschooler, and some days I'd eat lunch and go right back out again. And work at night. On weekends, I'd scoot out for two hours in the morning, before the baby's nap, and/or for a block of time in the afternoon. Husband is a telecommuting freelancer, so fortunately he's been available to pick up the slack--and vacuum and feed the small people who live with us.
But that doesn't make it any easier.
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah or (less kindly) ego, to create art, I guess. It's a conviction that this story needs to be told, this painting needs to be painted, this sculpture is worth sculpting and poem is worth writing. That in a world with ever-increasing demands on our time and resources, that we're still. Alone. Thoughtful. And "not accomplishing anything." Just writing. "Just writing" doesn't do my laundry or locate the roughly 7,682,000 Squinkies that litter my daughter's bedroom floor, or teach my son how to put the blocks in his shape sorter. It doesn't get rid of the cobwebs that magically appear in the corners or clean the bathroom. Or prep for my classes. Or grocery shop.
It doesn't even answer email or futz around on Facebook.
"Just writing," is me, my iTunes, and a soy chai. It's one eye on the clock and all of my concentration on my characters. It's making notes and figuring out plot points and remembering that I had those characters talk about X early in the book and it better pay off later. It's being able to switch from "mommy mode" to "pro mode" really quickly. And I'm so, so grateful that I get to do this and get paid for it--don't get me wrong!--I just feel BAD sometimes, that I like it so much. And that I not only get to do it--that it's MY JOB to do it. Someone on the other end of the line is waiting for these stories now. And no matter how guilty I feel about taking the hours away from my daytime life to do it, it's important.
I want my children to see their mom doing what she loves, but that doesn't make it easier when I have to tell my daughter that I can't play Secret Agent Princess right now, I have to go write. Or that she can't wear her t-shirt with the dog wearing a top hat on it to school today, because I still haven't done the laundry. Or that we're having Crockpot Chicken Mess for dinner tonight--again. I still feel guilty.
And it's a guilt that all working moms feel. But on the worst days, the days when one of them is recovering from the stomach flu (three times in four weeks!) and my husband hasn't had a chance to shower, and I'm scooting out to sit in a coffee shop and write, I feel a little silly and self-indulgent: Really? Someone's going to read my books? With all the other stuff that's out there? Why bother? Those are the hard days.
And those are the days I'm recovering from now. Book turned in, cobwebs dusted. Still working my way through the laundry (egads). Meatballs are in the crock pot. This morning, I spent some some quality time with my son, the shape sorter, and some Karen Katz lift-the-flap books. At lunch after preschool, Husband and I introduced our daughter to shrimp sashimi and she demolished the innards of our California Roll.
And when the babysitter came, I scooted out to write.
- Current Location:Panache Coffee
- Current Mood: contemplative
- Current Music:Jason Mraz
But lately, I've been stressed out. I'm on deadline, the day job work is piling up, one kid has been sick, the other one teething. That combo isn't good. Times like this, writing feels selfish. There are just so many other pieces of life that need my attention. Plus, drafting a book is always the worst part of the process for me. It's difficult and painful and a bit like groping in a dark room for a light switch (only I'm searching for plot). I'm also trying something new with this one: writing from a boy's POV. That creates added doubt--is the voice right? Is it exciting enough? Will readers think I'm a fraud?--and pressure. I start worrying that I'm not good enough, that I haven't made the right choices. Then I go into a bookstore or library and see a squillion books on the shelves and despair that anyone will ever find mine--especially if they're shelved wrong. Everything piles together creating a multi-layer Cake of Doom and I go back to contemplating dental school. Existential crises ensues. Ugh.
So, a few weeks ago, while I still had (some) of my wits about me, I took a break from making to do lists and made a Did Do list. I spent a few minutes jotting down the great things that I've had the chance to do since I started writing, the goals I've met, the people I've learned from, and the bright moments for my books. The result surprised me. It showed me that the work has paid off and that the stress and the doubt and the worry will go away, hopefully to be replaced by something wonderfully unknowable at this point.
I'm guilty of being a "what's next" type of person. I finish a project, am satisfied for about eleven seconds, and then I move on to the next thing. My Did Do list serves as a gentle reminder to take a little more time and value not only what I put into my past, but to trust that the work I'm doing now will make for a good future. It reminds me to breathe. It reminds me that, yes, even in the midst of a squillion books, and on the wrong shelf, a hand might pick up my story. Amazing.
Do it. Your Did Do list has more on it than you think.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: accomplished
• Classes start tomorrow. I'm excited, but also a little panicky. This is going to be a busy semester--lots of travel, lots of work, lots of responsibility. I don't want to get swept under it all. Deep breaths will help.
• I'm weaning myself off TV. There are a few shows (see "Walking Dead"/ "Homeland" entry, below) that I love, but I am finding that I am just not invested in lots of stuff I used to watch. And I'm glad about that. I have much better things to do with my time.
• There are, however, a zillion movies that I want to see. Notably, Argo, The Hobbit, Zero Dark Thirty... you get the picture.
• The faucet in the kitchen sink has had a slow drip for 6 weeks. FabHusband has tried to fix it, no dice. Time to get a new faucet! I am strangely excited about this.
• Trying, trying, trying to stick to my resolutions. The writing is going great. The reading, pretty well. The exercise? Tougher. But I took the kids for a walk today and Husband cleared some space around the treadmill, so....progress.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: cheerful
What is the
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breakin (Dial Books for Young Readers, July 2013)
Where did the idea come from for the book
I've long been a fan of mysteries--both real life and fictional--and ever since I toured Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I've been fascinated by the theft that took place there in 1990. Thirteen masterpieces were stolen, and, even with a $5 million reward, no trace of them have ever been found. While I was writing Total Tragedy, I started thinking about using that theft in a story. It wasn't until I was in copyedits with Notes that I figured out how I could tell the tale I had in mind.
What genre does your book fall under
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book
Thirteen-year-old Moxie Fleece has two weeks to solve the biggest unsolved mystery in Boston, or lose everyone she loves.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript
About ten months.
Who or what inspired you to write this book
I've always wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery, and I love my adopted hometown of Boston. I love the recent "Boston noir" trend that's appeared in films like "The Town," "The Departed," and "Gone Baby Gone", and thought I could bring that to my tween novels. Let's hope it's successful!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest
It's a race against the clock adventure, with chase scenes, Boston landmarks, and lots of love and heart and family loyalty.
And...shhh!...I'm working on a companion novel to Moxie's story, that takes place on the Boston Harbor islands. It will be released in 2014.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: excited
2013 started with a bang: my screaming, crying son keeping me up almost all night on New Year's Eve. A combination of teething, head cold, and the mildest ear infection you can possibly have--but the sum of all those parts made for a messy night for my little boy. And me.
I had grand plans of writing a "kick butt, take names" sort of entry to begin this year, but well, my darling gave me (and his big sister) his cold, and two rough nights later and I'm just grateful to have 20 minutes to sit down and blog. That said, I do have some plans for this year. In 2012, I took the year off from goal setting and resolutions. I didn't have a book releasing, but I did release a new human being into the world, and it was a great opportunity to just focus on my family. And I did, and I am happy that I did.
And now it's time to add back in all of the other things that are important to me.
Inspired b jbknowles, who creates a theme for each year, I've decided that my 2013 theme is "Make the Time." Too often, at the end of the day I find myself wondering where the time went (mostly it's been spent playing with small people on the floor of my living room). So I'm going to be more mindful of the time I have and how I'm spending it.
In 2013, I will Make the Time to:
1. Read - I read about 15 books this past year; I'd like to increase that to 20-25. I'm also on the awards committee for the Boston Author's Club, so I'm doing a lot of reading for that. I'll probably exceed that goal, come to think of it. Whoo!
2. Write. Every day. - I typically write in big chunks, or steadily when I'm on deadline. This year, I'm going to write something every day--working on a book, or short story, or journal. I want to see what material I have at the end of a full year of writing. I'm giving myself a total of 30 passes for the year, though--30 days I can take off. So far, I've used two of them (unless you count this blog entry).
3. Walk - There's a new-to-us treadmill in the basement. I can't wait to start using it. I'm starting slow at first, with just 30 mins, 3 times per week.
4. Work - My day job is pretty demanding this year. I'm a department head with hiring and budgeting responsibilities, and then there's the regular grading and prep and teaching. Needless to say, I find myself scrambling on Sundays, or Tuesday nights before class. Not this year! I'm going to make the time to get through work in a timely manner.
5. Connect - From conferences and workshops, to just seeing friends more, I want to be more present in the communities I'm part of. Last year I hibernated a little (see "new baby," above), and I missed being part of the groups I love. So far, I'm signed up to present at the Whispering Pines retreat in March, the NESCBWI conference in May, and I have a proposal in for another conference. My girlfriends and I have also talked about getting together more regularly--without kids. Bring it on!
Although I'm starting 2013 with a head cold that has infiltrated nearly my entire family, I'm optimistic. I've got a plan.
Watch out, 2013...I'm baaack!!
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: optimistic
Five Things I've Learned About Writing from The Walking Dead and Homeland
1. It's not about the zombies. Or the terrorists.
The biggest complaint that I hear from people who've never seen Walking Dead is that they "don't like zombies." And yeah, there are zombies and grossness in the story. But the show is not about zombies: it's about people. These characters are thrust into a situation where they have to fight for survival, and that brings out some very intense emotional reactions and personality traits. Same with Homeland--although it's "about" terrorism, it's interpersonal relationships that drive the show.
Writing takeaway: Pay attention to how the characters are growing emotionally, don't let an exciting premise substitute for quality character development.
2. Up the ante.
Last season on Walking Dead, a child went missing. She got separated from the group, got lost in the woods, and was gone for most of the season. A child. I held my breath for at least 8 weeks while the survivors searched for her. In Homeland, Carrie, played by Claire Danes, perpetually makes bad personal decisions that put her career in jeopardy. With both stories, there's tons at stake--people's jobs, lives, way of life--big stuff is on the table, every week. This makes their audience super invested in every move the characters make.
Writing takeaway: Go there. Take risks. Your readers won't be able to look away.
3. No one is safe.
Oh man, anyone on the Walking Dead can be zombie-fodder, any time. Beloved characters, walk-ons...anyone. Those writers have some cajones, because they're slowly killing off their core group of survivors. It's so hard to watch sometimes--BUT SO GOOD. The zombie apocalypse is not real, but they're playing it real: people will die. People you love will die. Sickness, stupidity, bad luck--anything can tip the scales against you. And you know what? I'd lose respect for the show if the main characters came out unscathed all the time.
Writing takeaway: Put characters on the chopping block (metaphorically, in my case). Ruin a relationship. Get in there and mess up their lives. The more protected a character is, the less a reader will connect with them. Life is not safe.
4. Invest in structure.
One thing that works unbelievably well in both shows is the way the writers have taken the long view on the plots. There are seeds planted in the first season of the Walking Dead that are just now starting to pay off. Homeland is all about the long game. Each episode stands on its own as entertaining and gripping, but, again, it's the far-reaching plot points that keep audience members hooked.
Writing takeaway: Especially for a plunger like me, the attention to plotting is key. What can I subtly set up in the beginning of the book that pays off later?
5. Pack the scenes.
Nothing is wasted in these stories--every scene reveals something about character or pushes the plot forward. There's no loitering, nothing irrelevant. In narratives that thrive on suspense, if you slow down you lose your edge. The key is moving forward, fast, without sacrificing character growth and depth. Hard stuff.
Writing takeaway: Keep that story moving. Evaluate the significance of each scene; brutally edit.
Although these elements of writing are ones that we've heard before, seeing all of them executed so well at the same time reminds me just how effective they are.
And zombies and terrorists don't hurt, either.
- Current Location:home