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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...


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.


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.

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.

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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2015's Word: Compassion

2014 is on its way out, and let me tell you, the last three weeks of this year have been...less than stellar. Crappy, in some cases. Deaths in my family and in my husband's, work issues, writing issues, The Bronchitis That Won't Die--all of which are making me eager for 2015 and its fresh start.

However, overall, I have no beef with 2014. My family traveled, my kids stayed healthy (except for the minor bugs and colds of childhood), I wrote more than I have since they were born, and I made new friends. Not too shabby, 2014. I also did pretty well with my 2014 theme, "Be Deliberate." On to the new year.

My theme for 2015: Compassion.

I've tried a few other words on for size over the past week--creativity, boundaries, exploration, and artistry, to name a few--but I keep coming back to this one. This is the one that feels right. And when it comes to words, I tend to go with the one that feels the best, sounds the best, and makes the most sense. So, "compassion" it is.

Here's how I want to incorporate it into my life this year:

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.

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!

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.

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.

This year is a big birthday year for me. Lots of new beginnings, opportunities for change, and opportunities for growth.

So here's to a more compassionate 2015. A warm and fuzzy year, I hope.

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2014: A Year in Review

Well, I'm glad blogging wasn't on my resolution list for 2014. Taking stock of the past year, for me, means I go back and look at the plans I set, and how the year stacked up before I attack the next one.

So here's what I set out for in 2014, with my end-of-year notes in blue:

This year [2014], my theme is "Be Deliberate".

Here's how I want to implement that in my life:

Responses: I'm a reactor, a fix-it-quick -er, a talk first, think later -type person. This year, I want to be deliberate in my responses and interactions with others: take a breath (or three) before responding, think about what I'm about to say before I say it, and generally temper my bull-in-a-china-shop approach to plowing through life.
2014 Review: I think I did pretty well here. A few professional issues cropped up, and I let myself cool a bit before responding. In general, I tried to be a better listener and slow things down. I wasn't perfect, by any stretch, but I was conscious of when I was plowing through and actively tried to slow down. I'm pretty proud of my work on this one!

Writing: I'm working on a book right now, and I want to be more deliberate in how I approach my writing life. The night before, I will plan when I'm going to write each day, so I have an hour that I can look forward to and keep sacred. I want to make more deliberate choices in promotion/events and not overextend myself again.
2014 Review: Well, if we eliminate November...and October...I'd have to say I didn't overextend myself. This fall was really, really busy--and I think that's part of my schedule now, when I have a summer/early fall book release. Even though October and November, especially, were hectic, I did get to see a lot of writer friends, and meet wonderful readers, teachers and librarians. I wrote nearly two full books this year, and I was much more deliberate with my time and schedule. Win!

Reading: My daughter is learning to read, and she loves books. I want to ensure that she sees me reading bound novels, not just digital media (typically I read "real" books in bed). So I've instituted Quiet Reading Time every day, where we each take a "real" book and read sitting next to one another. This is my favorite part of the day already (although it can be a challenge with the toddler running around, but even he is getting into it).
2014 Review: Quiet Reading Time waxed and waned according to our schedules (but Bedtime Reading we NEVER EVER miss), but I noticed a big change in my daughter's reading habits. She's reading Mo Willems' ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE books on her own (and to me, when I'm sick!), and has fallen in love with Harry Potter. My son can now recite Elephant and Piggie lines, and demands stories every day. Victory!

Health: 2013 was an awesome year in this regard--I ran 5 5Ks (!) and made a commitment to taking better care of myself. This needs to continue. To that, I want to add being more deliberate about my sleep. My kids are terrible sleepers, up during the night, and as a result, I drag through the day. This year, I want to be better about going to bed early when I need to--and working on getting these kids to stop being nocturnal!
2014 Review: Ugh. This is where I fell short. The second half of the year was so busy, I didn't run as much. I only did one 5K, I fell out of shape, and am not happy with where I am right now. But--2013 showed me what I can do, and I know I can get back to that. So it's back to the pavement/treadmill in 2015. On the plus side (I shouldn't say this outloud) my kids are sleeping. Almost every single night. OMG, it's GLORIOUS. I'm giving myself half of a gold star on this one, because it is a serious life changer.

So there we go. Entering 2014 one deliberate step at a time.

See you later, 2014. You were challenging, exciting, busy, and full of surprises. Next up: figuring out my theme for 2015

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Meet Ollie

Ollie Truong.
Geocaching addict.
Wilderness Scout.
Accidental hero.
Two weeks after Ollie and his best friend Moxie solved one of the biggest mysteries in the US, the media explosion has yet to die down and life has become difficult for Moxie and Ollie. Very difficult. Like, TV vans outside the house difficult.
To escape the onslaught and recover what's left of his summer vacation, Ollie is headed to Wilderness Scout camp on the Boston Harbor islands. Instead of blending in with his new troop, Ollie's celebrity status follows him--and not to good effect. Dealing with jealousy, rival tentmates, and a last-man-standing amped up game of tag called "Gotcha," Ollie has his hands full.
Or thinks he does.
Enter Grey, the daughter of a park ranger who has a lot of secrets. Grey has a habit of showing up when she shouldn't and hearing things that people want to keep to themselves. Grey, Ollie's speed-talking tentmate Chris, and Ollie soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery surrounding hundreds of year old pirate treasure and a mysterious *someone* who is after it.
Relaxing vacation? I don't think so.


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Today is the official release day of Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting! Yay! I'm celebrating on a thunderstorm-filled day in Viterbo, Italy, where I am spending the month of July teaching in a summer study abroad program (tough life, I know).
But, I DO miss cheering this book on from the States. OLLIE is a special book to me because it hits a bunch of "firsts" for me as a writer:
- first companion novel/sequel (it's the companion to last year's MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING)
- first time writing from a male protagonist's point of view (yikes! I am still stressing out over that)
- first adventure story (although it's also a mystery, it's got a big adventure element to it)
These were all big challenges that I set out for myself. I love writing stories, and with each project I want to try something new--something that will help me grow. And with growth, comes risk. MOXIE was a risk because it was a mystery story, when I'd written three contemporary humorous novels before that. OLLIE takes that risk even further, which can make people uncomfortable (readers, maybe. Publishers, definitely). But, I was given a lot of support for it. I worked really hard on this book, doing draft after draft with my very patient editor, Liz Waniewski (the book is even dedicated to her!). My writer's group cheered me on, helping me iron out plot twists and flesh out characters. And I had help from some great readers who are 13 year old boys--to make sure I got 13-year-old-boys right.
Even with all that help, though, as when I release any book (and holy smokes I can't believe this is my FIFTH published novel. That in itself is an unbelievable gift) I'm nervous. I'm worried that I'll have made a mistake. That I will have gotten something wrong. That you won't like it. And worst of all: that no one will read it.
This is the type of worrying that keeps me up at night, especially for the past week.
But that's not productive. Instead, I should think about how I worked my butt off on this book, and Ollie is a great character and worthy of his novel. I have to remember that. So I'm going to take a deep breath, eat some gelato, and enjoy the day.
With risk comes reward.

(want to learn more about Ollie? Go here)

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There's been a lot of really good, important conversation around the lack of diversity in children's books lately:

Walter Dean Myers in the NY Times.
Kate Messner's ongoing discussion and call to action around Varian Johnson's THE GREAT GREENE HEIST on her blog.
Mitali Perkins' ongoing discussion, and her editor's confession.
The We Need Diverse Kids Books Campaign.
And Lisa Schroeder's confession and fear.

My first four books feature white female main characters. That's who I am, that's what I was comfortable with in adopting a voice for a character. But my world is not "white only"--and neither are my characters'. I've populated my books with secondary characters who are Filipina, African American, Asian, and biracial. I wanted my characters to go to schools that reflect the schools I attended, and the ones my daughter goes to.

But that's the problem: Those were secondary characters. And as awesome as it is to get email from Filipina girls who are so excited to see Millie in MODELS DON'T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, Millie isn't the focus of the book (maybe she'll get her own book one day...). And it makes me sad to know that those readers don't have as many main characters that look like them. Lots of kids don't see themselves in books. This is something that the awesome Phoebe, from my writers group, reminds us of on a regular basis. As I've progressed as a writer, I wanted to take on new challenges and maybe address some of these issues.

So when I wrote MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING, I gave Moxie a best friend who is male and half Caucasian, half Vietnamese. Ollie is also a geocaching addict, a Wilderness Scout, a careful thinker, and asthmatic. He's fearful. He's not in good shape. He likes video games. And I fell in love with him.

So I gave him his own book.

The companion to MOXIE is Ollie's book, OLLIE AND THE SCIENCE OF TREASURE HUNTING. It comes out on July 11--barely 12 weeks from now!

And I've been super nervous about it for lots of reasons:

1. It's a boy book: the whole book takes place at Wilderness Scout camp, on an island. It's all boys (there's one female character--and she's a minor character). Could I write from a male POV? Would it be "boy" enough? Did Ollie's voice sound consistent from the first book to the second? Were his thoughts and thought process different enough from Moxie's?

2. Ollie's ethnicity. He's biracial--his mom is white, his dad is Vietnamese. Would people accuse me of appropriating Vietnamese culture? Did I get it right? How much "culture" do I need to have in there, anyway? He's not at home...he's on an island. He confronts some cultural issues directly--tells one kid that "Not all Asian kids are good at math," and patiently explains to another that although he knows origami (for his geocaches), he's not Japanese. *frets*

3. The other boys. Did I mention it's a boy book? Ollie makes totally new friends in this story: guys who are African-American, Indian, Latino, white...a mix that reflects his urban Scout troop. Did I get all their voices right? Will readers pick up on their differences, or do they all seem bland?

And on and on. Writing books has made me even more neurotic than I was to begin with.

Suffice it to say, I've been worried. But I've also been busy, so I forgot to start worrying about the reviews from places like Kirkus, or SLJ, or Booklist. On Friday, they started coming in.

I nearly threw up when I saw the message from my editor.

But--I can't share the reviews themselves til next week--the ones that have come in so far are GOOD. And they kind of do and don't address the issues and worries that I had (sorry to be vague here).

Prepub reviews are not a substitute for real world readers, however--and those are the opinions that I'm most interested in and concerned with. I want my books to show a wider view of the world, but it's a big, scary risk to write from a point of view and background that's not my own. My hope is that readers see that I'm doing what I can to broaden my scope, editors see that these books will sell--because the more we purchase books about characters with backgrounds not our own, the more editors will purchase those books--and publishing houses will be home to a wider range of writers.

So if you need me, I'll be here, biting my nails, hoping that I got it right--or close to right--and that, ultimately, you like my book, and Ollie. Because we need more books with kids like him in them. Because we need more diverse writers. Because taking the risk is worth it. Every time.

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onBon Break magazine is hosting a Scavenger Hunt for World Read Aloud Day!
Reading aloud is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a book.
One that I've read aloud recently is BEEZUS & RAMONA, by Beverly Cleary.
UP! TALL! AND HIGH! by Ethan Long is another fun one to share.
G​​uess I'm a sucker for humorous titles.
Happily, I also have a soft spot for mysteries and puzzles.
That's why I'm giving you this clue.

I hope you figure it out!


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BonBon Break magazine is hosting a Scavenger Hunt for World Read Aloud Day!
Reading aloud is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a book.
One that I've read aloud recently is BEEZUS & RAMONA, by Beverly Cleary.
UP! TALL! AND HIGH! by Ethan Long is another fun one to share.
G​​uess I'm a sucker for humorous titles.
Happily, I also have a soft spot for mysteries and puzzles.
That's why I'm giving you this clue.

I hope you figure it out!

<a href="http://www.bonbonbreak.com/WRAD-scavenger-hunt"> <img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-18713" alt="WRAD" src="http://www.bonbonbreak.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WRAD.jpg" width="250" height="250" /> </a>

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• 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:

• 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."