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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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Writing Retreats: Why They're Important

Sunday, I returned from three and a half days in Vermont at Kindling Words East--a retreat for authors, illustrators, and editors. It's an incredible experience: time to write, talk about writing, and think about writing. I left  full of new knowledge, eager to dive back in to my work, and more centered. Life had me a little jangly-edged lately.

But when I tell non-writers about a retreat, sometimes I get the impression that they think it's a lot of eating great food (there is that...Kindling Words is held at a culinary resort), soaking in a hot tub (some people took advantage of that amenity, but not me), getting spa treatments (okay, there's a spa there, too, but I didn't go), and sitting around (um, NO). Here's what goes on at a writing retreat (aside from any of the cool amenities), and why it's so valuable to people like me:

1. Craft talk: At Kindling Words and other retreats, there's usually a portion of time devoted to developing craft. Think of it as a master class, taught by an expert in the field. These formal conversations usually focus on how to improve the craft of writing--making the most of revision, or beginnings, or developing characters, or-or-or--the list could go on forever. This weekend, I was up and out of my hotel room even earlier than I would leave for work at my day job; ready to listen, learn, and take notes.

2. Networking: Writers work in a vacuum, typically. Although the children's book community is vibrant, we spend the vast majority of our time at a keyboard. Alone. Being around other professionals is valuable and necessary: there are a lot of ups and downs in this industry, and with the big changes in the publishing community, we're all trying to find our way. The conversations that happen around meal times and during social hours are generous with shared knowledge and support. I talked to people about everything from promotion, to balance of work and family and writing, to next projects and stumbling blocks. Spending time with people who understand you: amazing. Making friends in the process? Priceless.

3. White space: Something that I first experienced at Kindling Words, these are casual conversations around an attendee-generated topic. There's a white board in our central meeting room where you post your topic and meeting time. Want to talk about Scrivener? Meet in this place at that time and likeminded people will find you. Kindling Words featured white space topics on diversity in the industry, career management, illustration techniques, etc. Although I didn't attend all of the whitespace conversations, the ones I did pop in to gave me tools and techniques that are practical and that I'll put in to use right away.

4. Writing time: Perhaps the most important aspect of a retreat is time to write. Most of us have a jobs, and families, and other pressing needs that don't allow hours of unfettered work. We parcel out our writing time to the minute (case in point: right now, I have one hour and forty-five minutes before I have to be home to get dinner for the family). Having an opportunity to think, write, and create, without interruption is truly a gift--and one that everyone in attendance was grateful for. Even the full time writers, who don't have day jobs, need that time away from other responsibilities to refresh and refocus. We work out plot problems and come up with creative solutions because we have more time to think, instead of keeping an eye on the clock.

Being a writer is about creativity and imagination and fun--totally. But there are a lot of practical elements that go in to this vocation, too. By the end of the weekend, I was reenergized about my latest project and thinking about my career in different ways. I'm thankful for the organizers of Kindling Words (all writers, themselves) for taking their time to put together such an incredible gift for this community.

Hopefully I'll get to go again next year!

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Edgar & I Have History

Wow. 2014 has started off with fireworks. Big time.

Yesterday I found out that Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking was nominated for an Edgar Award. Most people outside of the writing community aren't familiar with this award--it's not as recognizable as the Pulitzer, or National Book Award, or the Newbery & Caldecott. So a little about Edgar...

The Mystery Writers of America has been giving Edgars since 1945, to honor the best in mystery writing for the previous year in print and television (there used to be film and radio awards, too!). Named for Edgar Allan Poe, who's considered to be the father of the detective story, the award is given at a gala banquet in NYC each spring.

And holy shnikey, Moxie is on their short list! It is one of five novels in the Juvenile Fiction category!

For me, getting the Edgar nomination was a really big deal--not only because OMG IT'S THE EDGARS! (that's a huge part of it!)--but because of my history with mystery. And Poe.

When I was a kid, my family spent swaths of the summer in southern Rhode Island at my great aunt and uncle's beach house. My great aunt's sister (bear with me here), was an avid mystery reader. So was I. Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Nancy Drew...it didn't matter if it was a tea cozy or hardboiled, kids or "adult" fiction, I was in to mysteries (I wanted to be a detective for a little while). So when we'd visit, Charlotte (the sister), would bring me a stack of whatever she'd finish reading that spring--along with her old Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. I devoured them. And inevitably, there was an article devoted to each year's Edgar Awards in the stack.

How cool, I'd think. All those mystery writers in one place. Together.

It seemed romantic--and dangerous. The perfect place for a crime!

I'd search the names of nominees and winners to see if there were any that I recognized, and I'd be so thrilled if I did. I'd wanted to be a writer since I was six, but when I was deep into my mystery phase, I decided I could be detective on the side. Reading all those mysteries were a great way for a quiet, fearful girl to go on loads of adventures and get into imaginary trouble. Ultimately, I decided that a life solving crime was not for me, but I've never lost my love of the genre.

Fast forward a couple of decades...

Pregnant with my first child, my husband and I were sorting through name options. We didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl, and coming up with first names was proving to be a challenge. But a middle name? We had that set. We wanted to use a classic American poet/author's name (both of us are writers who overthink stuff)--and there was one American writer who we both greatly admired; no question.

Yes. Our daughter's middle name is Poe. We even celebrate Poe's birthday every year...

Last year's party. Yes, we have two Poe action figures. And Poe art. And a lunchbox. Maybe a finger puppet. What?

So we live with Poe. Every day.

Deciding to write MOXIE--which, as a mystery, was a departure from my humorous contemporary novels before it--was a big risk. But it was a story I was dying to tell, about a city that I love (where E.A. Poe was born, natch), and I am so grateful that my publisher supported me in trying a new direction. I got to write about a girl going on adventures and getting in to loads of imaginary trouble. And then the MWA got excited about Moxie and her story.

So Edgar and I...we have history. And when I walk into that room on May 1st, it'll all come full circle. All those mystery writers in one place. Together. And I'm one of them! I honestly don't care if I come out of there with a statue; this is more than I could ever, ever have hoped for.

Thanks, Mr. Poe.

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2014 Theme: Be Deliberate

I am a goal oriented, list making person. I love checking things off and feeling accomplished. So of course, I really like New Year's Resolutions. But last year, instead of making a quantifiable list, I took a page from jbknowles book and chose a theme for 2013: Make the Time. You can see how it went here.

This year, 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.

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.

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).

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!

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

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2013 Recap

The crush of the end of the semester, plus Christmas prep, plus regular mom-stuff, has left me a bit wrung out lately. So when I sat down yesterday to take stock of the year, I didn't expect much. I was pretty surprised at what I found.

Here's an excerpt New Year's entry from January 2013. Notes in blue.

Inspired by 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! I did! I read over 30 books this year. Not as much as my pre-kid, days, but I'll take it.
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). Um. This didn't happen. So, I'm carrying it over to 2014. Writing. Every day.
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. Whoo!! Not only did I walk, but I RAN. I started galumphing through the Couch to 5K program with my friend, and worked up to FIVE 5Ks this year. I've made time to take care of myself, made time to commit to it. Success!!
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. This happened! Although the January semester was hectic, this fall was much more manageable. Having our babysitter come once a week for a couple of hours really contributed to keeping life sane. I plan to continue in the spring.
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! Again--success! I got out. Whether it was promoting MOXIE, or attending conferences, or seeing friends, I was "out there" a lot more, post-baby. At times, maybe too much. This fall I felt a little over-extended. Okay, a lot over extended. Lesson learned.

So, 2013, I was more mindful of you. I also made a conscious effort to change my language--whenever I went to say, "I didn't have time to X," I stopped myself and rephrased it: "I didn't make the time to X." A small difference in verbiage, but it actually made a big change in the way I thought about my days and decisions. I made the time to do things that were important to me, and I managed to fit more in than I could have expected.

I've chosen my theme for next year, one that will hopefully piggyback on this year's and keep the momentum going. And I'm not going to wait
until January to get started.

Stay tuned.

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Let's see if I remember how to do this...

1. I miss blogging. Time is at a premium, and I find myself longingly looking at my blog and then turning to something else. I'm glad to get to it today. *waves shyly* Hi!

2. I'm prepping for two big conferences. I'm moderating a panel for the first time ever next weekend, and I'm spending time getting familiar with the books we'll be discussing. It's a big librarian conference--AASL--and I'm nervous. Not nearly as nervous as I am to present in front of a bunch of English teachers at NCTE/ALAN the following week. Eeek!!

3. All this prep means I'm not writing. But that's okay. I'm cooling the jets a little on what will (hopefully) be my 2015 release. I am aiming for February 1 as a completion date, instead of December 1. Happy to have the breathing room and hopefully the book will be better for it.

4. Balancing my priorities is hard. Family, work, writing, promotion...something is always getting dropped. This fall, I've opted to do a lot of in-person events at the expense of virtual outreach; not sure this was the best decision. Winter will see me more on social media, I think. And don't even get me started on the behind the scenes juggling that goes on to make it all happen. So grateful to my family for their patience.

5. But thankful that I get to do this. I am thrilled that these are my problems: Am I spending enough time on twitter? How can I reach out better to teachers? When do I have time to write this week. I mean, really. I'm a lucky gal--a lucky gal who works hard, but lucky nonetheless.

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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."