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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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2017's Word of the Year: Prioritize

It's not a very glamorous word, but this year I need practical, not fancy. I have Plans. I want to Do Things. I also had a really full plate at the end of 2016 that had me working at a high level that is pretty much unsustainable. I was grouchy and snapped at my family, stressed out all the time, and felt like someone had scraped out my insides with a melon baller.

So let's not let that happen again.

Here's how I'm hoping "Prioritize" can guide my 2017:

• I've assigned myself three daily priorities: health, family, and writing. I am thinking of them as pillars as I build my days.

Writing: I have big writing plans this year. I want to continue writing different types of projects for different levels of readers, but, in years past, I have struggled with making time to write. I got better about that in 2016, and this year I want writing to be one of my three daily priorities. Each night, I want to be able to point to writing time or something done to develop my writing career. This pillar is crucial, especially since my youngest will be starting kindergarten(!) in the fall. I'll have more time and more opportunity to stengthen this area.

Reading: I read a lot of books (for me) last year, and am going to continue to read widely and use Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge to guide my categories. Prioritizing reading means going to bed a little earlier to get a few extra pages in, making sure I have a book with me wherever I go--in my bag or on my iPad--and choosing to read instead of look at social media when I'm waiting in lines, etc. I read to my kids every day, and I want to make sure they they see me reading more, too. This is a fun priority.


Health: This is never a priority for me. I'm a mom who puts herself last all. The. Time. Fortunately, all of my important "numbers" are really good. And I want to keep them that way. I'm no spring chicken anymore, and doing something for my health every single day needs to be one of those major pillars for 2017. And beyond. So, whether it's the new workout I just set up at the gym, a walk with the dog, yoga, or playing in the yard with the kids--health is where it's at this year. I know I'll be better for it.

Family: My kids are at really fun ages, and spending quality time with them and my husband is a must-do. When deadlines pile up, I frequently disappear during the weekends and go out to write at night...and lots of times that's just how it is. But I want to make sure that I am setting aside clear family time to spend with these people I love. Last year, I wanted to take the kids someplace new each month, and I'll be carrying that over. I've also started an ater dinner family board game each night. So this is another pillar for 2017.

Financial: In 2016 I was determined to get a handle on our finances. Keeping with our program is definitely a priority for 2017. I tend to lose interest on this stuff, so I'm hoping to find more ways to engage and grow our goals.


Okay. I'm ready for 2017! Goals set, priorities aligned, optimistic as heck. Let's do this!


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2016 Wrap up, 2017 launch

(It seems that I only blog for memorial posts and resolutions these days...)

Every year, inspired by
jbknowles I choose a word to define my goals, plans and resolutions. My word for 2016 was Diversification. I wanted to spread out, try new things. Here's how I did:

ETA: the initial description is from January 2016, the "How I Did" is today's assessment.

Writing: [In 2015] 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. [In 2016] 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.
How I did: Pretty. Darn. Good. I wrote a sold a picture book to Charlesbridge! I wrote another picture book, with clowns in it (2016--bad year for subbing books with clowns). I wrote and submitted that short story to a book festival (it didn't get chosen for the all-city read, but now I have a short story to mess around with!). I am sitting on news about that middle grade that I worked on in 2015--which I also worked on a lot in 2016. And will be doing more with in 2017. I began another middle grade, and, right before the end of the year, started a Super Seekrit Project that I am so excited about I could explode. I also edited an anthology and learned a lot about screenwriting. I really stretched myself and reconnected with what makes me happy creatively. So psyched about this. WIN.

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.
How I did: I read about 32 books in 2016, thanks to that Read Harder Challenge, the book club, and a phenomonal summer of reading. I don't count the novels I read to/with my daughter (all of the Ramona series, loads of Puppy Place chapter books, etc), so the Total Books Read is probably a lot higher. I read widely--nonfiction, biography, books featuring LGBTQ characters/authors, middle grade, YA, adult, fantasy, religion, horror, classics...I probably had the best reading year since my kids were born, in terms of number and range of books. I know this number pales in comparison to many other friends', but I'm counting it a WIN. And taking on this year's Read Harder Challenge, too!

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.
How I did: Hahahahahahaha! My shape is round. I struggled in this area, big time. I will spare you my excuses. NOT successful.

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.
How I did: I specifically tried to take my kids someplace new every month. It didn't have to be a trip to a far-off land (although we did spend time in Assissi while we were in Italy last summer)--but a new park, a different town, a museum...didn't matter. I was successful 9 out of 12 months, and I really had FUN. Totally carrying this one over to this year.

Another note: One of my big goals in 2016 was to become more informed about financial stuff. I find managing money necessary, but onerous, and have never done more than the bare minimum with our checkbook (and I'm way more invested, haha, than my husband). I forced myself to learn more about financial planning, investments, etc in 2016. And you know what? It wasn't so bad. Dare I say...it was kinda fun? I got hooked on Dave Ramsey's podcast (the religious stuff aside) and it was the gateway to learning a lot. So that's a bonus Adulting goal achieved.

Overall, minus the health stuff, I feel good about what I accomplished in 2016. Diversification was a good word for me, and I'm hoping that this year's choice, Prioritize, helps me steer into another successful year. That post will follow. Ever onward!


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My Princess Carries a Blaster

When I was five, I wanted to be a princess. Not one with a tiara and a big dress--that has never been my scene. My princess had cinnamon bun hair, sassed her bumbling "rescuers", carried a blaster and was connected to the Force.

This princess, after watching the annhiliation of her home planet, says, "We have no time for sorrows, Commander....use the plans in [R2-D2] to help plan the attack. It's our only hope." This princess gets sh*t DONE.



Carrie Fisher is my princess.

From ages five to ten I played with Star Wars action figures and stuffed animals. I had an AT-AT and the Millenium Falcon (I coveted the Ewok Village set, never got that one). Barbies and dolls and castles and frou-frou stuff was never my scene. Give me trash compactors, space battles, villains in black and heroes in white. Princess Leia was my role when my cousins took both Han and Luke when we played pretend, and I was cool with that. That princess never needed rescuing, was never locked in a tower, and could summon the Force and give orders when needed ("Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy"). Because of that--because of HER--I never felt that I couldn't do exactly what I wanted.

As I got older, I appreciated the Star Wars saga even more: In high school, it was a "language" that I used to make friends when my family moved twice in two years. The Star Wars kids were the band kids. Discussions about characters' morality, questions about the plot lines, endless ruminations on plot and character, and throwing quotes around the back of the bus on the way to band competitions gave me my way "in" to relationships.

In college, Star Wars was in near-constant rotation on the bus TVs when we traveled to away games and competitions. As an English major, I learned about Campbell's heroic cycle and applied it to Luke and Anakin's journeys. My understanding of the story changed--from space battles and good vs evil, to one of family and redemption. I read up on how Lucas created the saga, his influences and began to understand the larger cultural context of why it resonated with so many people. Princess Leia's role--a leader in the rebellion, trusted to carry plans from the Death Star to Ben Kenobi, had a larger  significance. As I learned more about feminism, her gold bikini scene with Jabba the Hutt became more resonant (literally strangling the mysogynistic figure who holds her hostage).

It keeps going--the story continued with the prequels, the conversations continued with friends. I beat my boyfriend at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (he was so good at it his friends made him answer an entire card of questions each time he rolled, let alone when he got a slice of the "pie") and I promptly retired from the game. We later got married (perhaps so he'd always have me on his team), and the famous Leia/Han quotes "I love you." "I know," are engraved inside our wedding bands, where most people inscribe their wedding date.

Our kids are into Star Wars, and Star Wars stuff dots our house (Death Star ice cube maker? Planet drinking glasses? Wind up Boba Fett? We got it, and then some). And Leia grew to be a general, leading an army of resistance fighters and never losing her spark. She's someone who my daughter loves just as much as I did.

Carrie Fisher went on to do lots more besides Star Wars, of course--Postcards from the Edge, writing 8 books, being a voice destigmatizing mental illness--her accomplishments are varied and show the breadth of her ability. But for me, she's first and foremost Princess Leia.

My story isn't a unique story, and that's pretty much the point. Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford...they are icons for a generation. They shaped the way we played, the slang and verbal short cuts we use, and represented the possibility that one person, or a group, can make a difference in the whole universe. Carrie Fisher's death, at the end of a year that's taken too many, too soon, feels like the abandonment of the hope her character represented. Princess Leia wanted peace, freedom, and to be out from under the shadow of the Empire. As the popular meme details, she lost her mother, her father, her planet, her adoptive parents, her husband AND her son...and has never been tempted by the Dark Side. Today, for lots of reasons, it seems like the Dark Side is winning.

Today there's time for sorrows.

Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you, always.


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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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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."