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[sticky post] Hi!

Welcome to my blog! I'm the author of MODELS DON'T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES (Dial Books 2009), THE TOTAL TRAGEDY OF A GIRL NAMED HAMLET (Dial Books 2010),  NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK (Dial Books 2011), and 2014 Edgar Award finalist MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING (Dial Books 2013), and OLLIE AND THE SCIENCE OF TREASURE HUNTING (Dial Books 2014). My books are for teens, tweens, and anyone who survived junior high.

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, MOXIE is race-against-the-clock mystery set in Boston, and OLLIE is a companion mystery to Moxie.

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!!


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Protection is another form of censorship

"Protection," when uttered by a librarian or teacher or another gatekeeper, is another word for censorship. Individual families may choose what they will or won't read/watch/listen to--that's their prerogative. But when institutions block access to materials *for their whole community* out of some misguided sense of "protection," that's censorship, friends. It's heartbreaking.

I get it--we don't want kids to have to deal with difficult circumstances. We don't want to think that the children that we see every day have struggles beyond ones portrayed in a Disney sitcom. But some do. They lose parents. They have addicts in their families.They are hungry, or poor. They see violence--in their home or in their neighborhood. They struggle with identity. With abuse. Or maybe their friend or classmate does. And a book can be a LIFELINE for these kids--for all kids. It lets those who are struggling not feel alone. Those who are fortunate learn empathy.

Your child may not be ready for some ideas--so let him or her skip that book. But the kid they sit next to on the bus might desperately need that story. *Desperately*. That child should be able to find that book and be welcomed into that world.
Kate Messner had yet another librarian choose not to put THE SEVENTH WISH on the shelf, because she doesn't want her 4th and 5th graders to have to worry about that stuff yet. Poor librarian. So many of your students ARE worried about that stuff...NOW.


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Maybe your school Skyped with an author this year. Maybe one came to a book fair or festival, or your Girl Scout troop or a fundraiser. Maybe someone donated a signed book for a raffle or giveaway. Maybe they donated their time and waived a fee for you. These are things authors love to do--they help us connect with our readers, our communities, and beyond.

But once the event is over, there are more things that you can do to ensure that that author who spent time with you continues to sell books--which ensures that that author can continue to write books (publishers don't like it much when their authors' books don't sell...that means no more contracts). Here are five ways you can really make a difference for writers, and each is free and takes no more than fifteen minutes:

1. Write a review. Indiebound, goodreads, the (oft-maligned, but sadly necessary) Amazon, Barnes & Noble all use algorithms for getting books on front pages and in front of readers. And one part of algorithmic puzzle involves user reviews. Write a 3 or 4 sentence review about why you liked the book or author talk and cut and paste it into these sites. This one little thing makes the biggest impact on an author's sales. Seriously. When people ask, "is it better for me to buy your book through X, Y or Z channel (or ebook vs hard copy)" I always tell people that where you buy it matters less than the review you leave it.

2. Ask your school or local library to order a copy. Shoot an email, make a phone call. Librarians LOVE to buy books even when budgets are tight, and if they know that the author came to an event and worked with you, they'll be doubly excited to spend their budget towards someone who is invested in their community. Even better: make this phone call or send this email before the author works with you. Then you can tell everyone that their books are already in the library! Win-win!

3. Ask your local indie bookstore to order copies. It's best practice to offer to sell books at an event where an author is appearing, but if you can't do that, you can partner with an independent bookstore near you and direct attendees there to pick up a book. Indiebound has a "locate an indie bookstore" button right on its front page. You can also add this information to a PTO newsletter or school Facebook page. Bonus: if you set this up in advance (again, this for an event where you're not already selling books) the author may be able to go to the store and sign their stock. So participants can go after the event and pick up a signed book! How cool is that?

4. Nominate the author's book to a summer reading list or state award list. Email the teachers and say, "hey, so-and-so is coming to this fundraiser/event/Scout cookout. Perhaps you'd like to include [latest title] on a summer reading list? Kids will be enthusiastic after meeting this awesome author." And here's a link to the list of state book awards. You can look at the nominating rules for your state and add your friendly author's book to your list.

5. Post on social media. Thank the author on whatever platform you use--Facebook, twitter, instagram, Voxxer, whatever. Explain how much you enjoyed their participation in the event. Include a link to their website and mention their latest title. This helps broaden their reach and maybe someone else will ask them to do an event for their program. If you're tweeting, be sure to include the author's twitter handle!

Taking these 15 minutes can make a big difference to someone's career. Thanks for spending the time to work with us and get great books into readers' hands!


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On Prince and Bowie

I've had a note in my bullet journal since January to write about David Bowie. And I'd page past it, sigh, and keep going. I didn't have the words. Not because I am a huge Bowie fan--actually, that's my husband. He's seen him live, loved even the most experimental Bowie material, and was deeply saddened by his loss. I couldn't write about it because I didn't know how to articulate my own thoughts around it.
And then Prince died.
And I have the words now.
I'm a child of the 80s. "Let's Dance" and "Let's Go Crazy" were invitations from both artists to push aside what anyone else thought/said/wanted you to be and be yourself on the dance floor and in life. I was fortunate to see Prince live (one of the most electric performances I've ever seen) and his music has been a touchstone for every phase of my life. Losing Prince is a punch in the gut and I'll wear purple for the next few days.
There's been plenty written about both artists in the way they insipred others to be themselves, to bust out of the norms and expectations of society.
I get that. But I also see something different.
Both artists embodied the idea that art becomes universal from the deeply personal.
David Bowie made music because he loved music.
Prince was a musician first and only--a star secondarily. He performed all the time because he loved playing his music. He wrote an ungodly number of songs for other artists, because he loved writing music. He played concerts at his house because all he wanted to do was play, play, play.
If no one had ever bought an album or went to a show, or heard them on the radio, I'm 99% sure that Bowie and Prince would have made music anyway, because it was who they were. It was the artist's life they lived. The fact that people liked it, that it inspired others, that they were innovators in their field...all that stuff seems (from my far outsider perspective) to be gravy for them. They were happy to share their art, because lots of artists are--but they didn't need you or I to like it or give our blessing for them to make more. They did it because it was part of them. They wrote from deeply personal places (look at "Lazarus"!) and we responded because we could see ourselves in their words, experience our emotions reflected through their compositions. They embraced who they were, whether it was by unapologetically wearing assless pants or bold makeup or bellbottoms or taking on personae, and they didn't care if you were offended or inspired. They did it for themselves. To push themselves, to get at what they were seeing or feeling or just what they felt like doing on a Tuesday.
And when you create art--doesn't matter what kind--from that place, there'll be people who are upset by it (see the PMRC), who don't get it, and who are afraid of it. But those who will get it, get it big.
As my writer-friend Laurel Snyder said at a conference I attended, "If there's no risk that you've upset someone, you probably haven't said very much."
Prince and Bowie said a lot.
So I'm going to wear my purple, and listen to "Heroes" and "Kiss" and "Let's Dance" and "Let's Go Crazy" and "I Would Die 4 U", and think about my own art, and the fact that I'd definitely be writing even if no one ever saw what I wrote, and how much more personal I can get.
And as for for Bowie and Prince...Rest in Rock, you two. 


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Setting Course

Recently I've been thinking about my author-life a lot. I have been able to do some really cool things since I've been published, and I'm so fortunate to have experiences with all types of writers. And each of those experiences have helped something crystalize for me:

I really, really like helping writers who are starting out on their journey.

I love demystifiying the process of writing, pulling back the curtain on how the publishing industry works, and cheering on writers as they develop and finish their projects. I love giving people confidence in their abilities and information to move them forward, or offering insight.

I have enjoyed teaching my college students for the past 15(!) years, so adding on speaking at conferences like NESCBWI, or running classes at The Writers' Loft seemed like a no-brainer--I have skills, I can do that. But then I noticed that I looked forward to those events and classes--like, really look forward to them. I get excited and invigorated by meeting new writers. And, perhaps selfishly, putting together those talks or lessons helps me to look more critically at my own work and process (hopefully) making me a stronger author.

Up until now, I've done these things sort of haphazardly--a class here, a talk there. But I'd like to be more intentional about these choices. I want to find more opportunities to interact with writers in this way. I've got two events coming up at the Loft this spring (a Conference Critique 101 chat and a novel writing workshop) and I'm presenting at NESCBWI at the end of the month. I've applied to another conference this summer-- the Hollihock Conference--and I'm keeping my eyes peeled for events in the fall.

I still love school visits and working with kids (OMG they are the BEST)--those won't end. There is a special kind of joy that comes from talking to readers at schools. I'll do that forever.

So I'm thinking of this as not exactly a new direction, but a more focused, parallel path.


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My Word for 2016....Diversify

For the past few years, inspired by jbknowles I've picked a word to use as a theme to guide my resolutions. For 2016, I've chosen "diversify" as my word. Here's how I want to use this word to guide my year:

Writing: Last year, I spent a lot of (needed) time working on one big project. I struggled and pushed hard, and my creative well ran dry. Julia Cameron's THE ARTIST'S WAY helped pull me out. This year, I want to Write All The Things. I'm working on a new tween novel. I have a deadline for a short story. I have some fun picture book ideas! Aside from stretching myself as a writer, I believe that having a variety of projects will help me stay excited and engaged with my creativity.

Reading: This is an easy one. I have a challenge list (Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge), an amazing book club, and a desire to keep broadening my reading experience. There's nothing better than discovering new books and new authors.

Health: 2013 and 2014 had me running. 2015 saw me halfheartedly at the gym and spending a LOT of time on the couch (thank you, Snowpocalypse Hibernation Response). I've relaunched my running regime, but this year I want to add some yoga, Pilates and other types of exercise to the rotation. Hopefully this will keep me engaged and in shape through the winter.

Family: I am using my word to guide some of our interactions and plans this year. The kids are older and we can do some fun stuff as a family. So we're going to bust out of our comfort zones and seek out different adventures.

Trying, writing, and doing new things. Happy 2016!


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2015 in Review

For the past couple of years, I've chosen a word as the theme for my year. Before I move on to this year's word, let's take a look at 2015 and how I did with that theme:

My theme for 2015:
Compassion.

I tried to incorporate it into my life in different ways:

Interaction: Like a lot of people in my generation, I can lean towards "judgey" at times. After all, it's a lot easier to judge someone else's choices, opinions, voting record, or peanut butter preference  than it is to walk in their footsteps. And on the heels of responding with more deliberation (from last year), this year I'd like to ineract with more compassion. Before making that quick comment or offering advice from my all-too-perfect vantage point, I'd like to more actively/conciously be aware of others and their circumstances. And another side of this cube is that not every single reaction that someone has to me is necessarily about me: That disinterested student might be preoccupied by something going on at home, not think that my class is boring (ok, maybe that's a stretch). So...yeah. Compassionate interaction.
How I did: Well, being in the jury pool for the biggest trial in Boston in decades really helped me take it down a few notches--as well as really, really screwing with my winter. So I'm going to count this a success. I thought about things a lot more and definitely changed some of my judgey tendencies.

Reading: Can you read compassionately? I think so. In 2015, I'd like to read with more thoughtfulness--trying some authors who I've rejected out of hand in the past ("Oh, I didn't like X, so I'm not going to read Y)--and more care. I also want to continue to expose my daughter to a range of authors and titles that feature protagonists who are different from her...everything from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Nikki Grimes to Rita Williams Garcia to Grace Lin. This will lay a foundation of empathy and connection that she'll carry with her forever. Can't wait!
How I did: I can always do better, but I read a diverse range of books by authors that I wouldn't normally pick up, so that's a win! And my daughter and I read some great titles together. YAY!

Writing: This year, I want to work on projects that I generate, that excite me, that stretch my capabilities. Where compassion comes in this category is to not push myself to burnout (see Brochitis that Won't Die, above) and take the time I need to get things right. And if that means saying "no," or "not yet," or "I want to do something different"...so be it.
How I did: I didn't work on a big range last year, but spent most of my time editing one novel and trying to write a picture book. Let's put this in the "good not great" category.

Health & family: There's that never-ending quest to actually take care of myself consistently (again, Bronchitis TWD), but I also want to be more compassionate as a family/parent. My kids have big, fun, personalities. They are smart and funny and can keep up really well with my kooky schedule. But...they are still little. They have very little choice in their days (school is mandatory, yo), and they do get shuffled and swept along with the tide of the two adults who care for them and work from home. So I'd like to be more aware of that on the days when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed and are grumpy, or when they need to pull the brakes and recharge. I'd like to be more compassionate towards myself on those days, too--when I feel that way and when they do.
How I did: I'll give myself a passing grade on this one, too. We had some dicey stretches, like when my oldest couldn't sleep during the sticky hot summer in Italy or when I nearly lost my mind in 112+ inches of snow and cancelled school in the winter. A work in progress.

Overall: Not so bad. Room for improvement--but there should be. The year itself was pretty rough--my husband and I each lost our last remaining grandparent, we both had work-related turmoil, and I had writing stuff that was wacky. But in the things that matter--health, happiness, well-being--we were all good. So I'll call it a win.

Later this week I'll post my 2016 Word and how I want to incorporate it into my life. Until then, a final adios to 2015.


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Biggest Change in 2015: Bullet Journaling

*Dusts off blog*

Getting ready for a new year, and, like most, I take stock of what this year brought. Most of those details I'll save for another day (overall, it was a kind of yucky year around here).  But I did make a change in 2015 that I'm really excited about and has affected just about every aspect of the way I put my life together: I became an avid Bullet Journaler.

I juggle parenting stuff, a full time faculty job with leadership and administrative responsibilities, and write novels and do school visits. So I frequently feel as though I'm running in a million directions and no one is getting enough of my time. Also, over the past couple of years, stuff was starting to slip through the cracks. I'd miss a deadline for setting the spring schedule at work, or forget to give my kid money for something at school, or scramble to find childcare for a meeting that got left off the calendar...you get the picture. Something had to change.

Enter the bullet journal.

I read about Bullet Journaling on Kate Messner's blog. Here's that entry. As a chronic list maker, and someone who likes setting goals, the idea appealed to me. So I checked out the Bullet Journal website, too.

Basically, bullet journaling is an organizational tool--you keep your daily to-do lists, ideas, meeting notes, calendar, etc, all in one notebook that uses a page-number and index. This way, you can easily find what you need and track longer term project progress as well as day-to-day stuff.

I picked up a pair of Moleskine notebooks in January. Each one is about 90 pages, and I figured that if the system didn't work for me, I could use them for other things. Conveniently, they ended up holding 6 months worth of material apiece. They're a little bit well-loved now...

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Each month, I list the dates and enter big stuff that's going on (I keep an ical synced with my husband for all the day-to-day stuff). Here's November. This lets me see at a glance if weeks are getting crowded--which allows me to cut back so I don't get crazy. I also list my big projects for the month, so I can work on them steadily. Sometimes I don't finish a project, so it gets carried over to the next month's list (when I was working on novel revisions I listed "Finish revision" for about four months in a row, until it was actually completed!).




I keep daily to do lists, as well. If something doesn't get finished one day, I move it to the next (or later in the week). I keep track of workouts, set time to write, and make sure the family stuff gets done.

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Mixed in are other lists. I'm working on a new book, and so I made a process list of steps that I wanted to take as I draft.
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All of it stays organized via the index--and this was the revolutionary "OMG WHY HAVE I NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS" piece of this tool. Using numbered pages, it's easy to flip to specific lists or ideas.
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Once I started using it, I immediately noticed that my productivity increased. It was easy to see what I had to do and when I had to do it, I kept track of things better (I have lists for to-do's at my day job, writing stuff, and general "brain dump" lists so I don't forget things). I have a page where I record books I want to read, one for gift ideas (ever think, "so-and-so would LOVE that"...and their birthday is 6 months away? Stick it in the bullet journal!). I stick stamps, receipts, and loose papers in a pocket in the front. I belong to a Bullet Journal Junkies facebook group, where people share their ideas and spreads (and wow, there are some beautifully designed books in that group!). My book is super utilitarian and kind of messy, but I love it that way. It keeps me focused and organized regardless as to how pretty it is. I haven't forgotten to send in anything for the kids' school, have made all of my meetings, and even got that pesky faculty schedule done EARLY. Wahoo!

For 2016, since I'm totally invested in the system, I upgraded my notebook. My new BuJo is a purple Leuchtturm 1917 (essentially a fancy German notebook with dots instead of lines, pre-numbered pages and a built in index, and thick glorious paper). It's my preciousssss. I've already set up pages for my resolutions and goals, got my list of home repairs that we want to tackle, books to read, and am going to set up January's pages today with a cup of tea. Here's to blank books and new beginnings!
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The Gardner Heist in Pop Culture

Twenty-five years ago today, in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, while the city was sleeping off its St. Patrick’s Day revelry—or was still partying full-force—two men dressed as Boston police officers gained entry into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. You know the rest: canvasses cut out of the frames, 13 master works of art stolen, and no trace of them since.

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better: the thieves wore fake moustaches, the security guards were tied up in the boiler room with their mouths duct taped shut, and the empty frames must remain on the walls per Isabella Stewart Gardner’s specifications. Oh, and there’s a $5 million reward for the return of the missing masterpieces.

This cocktail of theft elements has captured the imagination of authors, TV showrunners, filmmakers, and artists. Here are some of the top pop culture references to the Gardner heist:

1.     The Simpsons, American History X-cellent (aired April 11, 2010). Is that Vermeer’s The Concert hanging in Mr. Burns’s mansion? Why, yes. Yes, it is. And he goes to jail for having it.
2.     The Blacklist, The Courier (No. 85). James Spader as notorious criminal mastermind Raymond Reddington is seen in his luxurious apartment, admiring “Storm on the Sea of Gallilee.” He even mentions that “the painting should be hanging in Boston.” Um, yeah, Red, bring it back, will ya?
3.     Drunk History, “Boston.” While not as sublime as some of the others, the theft is hilariously retold by an intoxicated Bostonian woman to her friends on Comedy Central’s program.
4.     The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro. Shapiro’s novel revolves around a young artist who paints reproductions being asked to forge a fictional 14th piece of art stolen in the Gardner heist—and she’s given the original to use as reference.
5.     Irreplaceable, by Charles Pinning. The theft is solved in this novel, which focuses on a fictitious theft from the Rhode Island School of Design.
6.     The theft appears in numerous children’s books, including in Kate Messner’s Silver Jaguar Society series. In The 39 Clues: The Medusa Plot, Vermeer’s The Concert is found and returned, and in my novel Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, a girl from Jamaica Plain has two weeks to find the art, which her grandfather hid for the thieves.

For some nonfiction and documentary references and background of the theft, check out Stealing Rembrandts, co-authored by former Gardner head of security Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg, The Gardner Heist, by Ulrich Boser, and the documentary film Stolen, directed by Rebecca Dreyfus. All are rich with detail and offer multiple theories surrounding the heist.
Although the mystery has inspired many, the return of the art might be the best material yet. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 25 more years to find out the end of this story.
 


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2015 So Far: The Jury Duty Cloud

2015 has not gotten off to a great start around here. Lots of little things (minor car accident, writing-related stuff, sick kids, etc), but the big cloud that's been hanging over my head has finally lifted.

For the past 3 months, I've been in the jury pool for the Boston Marathon Bombing trial--the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I haven't been able to talk about my experience, but now that the trial has started and the jury is seated, I can. I wrote an article published by my local NPR station, WBUR. You can read it here.

Hoping the next three months are a little brighter than the last three!!


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News

• MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING (Dial 2013) was highlighted in the Atlantic Wire's Summer Reading Roundup!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY was named to the master list of Massachusetts Children's Book Awards 2013-2014

• New book alert! MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING will be in stores July 11 2013

• NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK is out in paperback! And it's on the Texas Lone Star List!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has been named to the Texas Lone Star list as well as Kansas' KNEA Reading Circle catalog (with a starred recommendation)

• TOTAL TRAGEDY is out in paperback! Ask for it at a bookstore near you.

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has gone into its third printing! Thanks to everyone who bought it!

• MODELS has gone into its fifth printing! Thank you!!

• Have you seen the TT trailer? Go here & check it out:
http://bit.ly/b5xeGw


• Disney's Family Fun Magazine and Girl's Life mag both loved TT! Check out the reviews in their February issues!

• I've signed stock recently at the following stores:
- Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA

• Booklist says, "Some sisterly bonding, the sweet flutterings of a first romance, and a creatively contrived comeuppance for the mean girls make [TOTAL TRAGEDY] a cheerful read for younger middle-schoolers."