Meet me at TLA 2018!

I look forward to a school visit in Arlington the day after Easter, followed by three days at the Texas Library Association conference in Dallas. I’ll be schmoozing as many librarians and educators as possible during that time.

If you will also be at TLA, please introduce yourself. Here’s my schedule:

MFA-Bound. Because I am Good at Doing Things Backwards

Hello, dear blog readers. Remember me? Once upon a time, I blogged very regularly. Then I got Very busy with writing projects in 2014. My year wrapped up something like this:

I celebrated the January 2014 sale of En Garde! The Dueling Words of Abraham Lincoln (Peachtree, 2016.);
I wrapped up two Capstone books for their horse series. And they are lovely!
I got a solid start on two books for Capstone’s Native American series;
I fully researched two original projects that are awaiting my full attention;
I wrote two picture book manuscripts that still need some work;
I judged two writing contests-one for young writers and one for adult writers;
I completed a bazillion revisions;
I volunteered at the Austin SCBWI conference;
I volunteered and moderated a panel at a Research workshop;
I volunteered at a Writing Barn workshop about picture book writing (Thank you, Bethany!);
I mapped out my grandiose (and probably unrealistic) ideas for launching my Beautiful Jim Key book this fall, 2015;
Speaking of Beautiful Jim Key, 2014 was the time to celebrate news of the upcoming movie about BJK, starring Morgan Freeman.

I celebrated the good news of a bunch of writer friends;

And…drum roll, please…I was admitted to the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Because, you know, I had all this free time. *cough*

Many people have asked why I made this decision to go back to school, having already broken through the publishing gates. I’m prone to doing things out of order and against the flow. Let’s just say I’m allergic to the road most travelled. This MFA journey is a very personal mission for me. The fact is, I don’t need an MFA to write publishable books, but I look forward to deepening my craft, elevating my analytical skills, opening the door to potential teaching opportunities, and being part of this amazing community. I couldn’t be happier. But, beginning a program like this requires that I switch mental gears on a regular basis. Normally, I am publishing-focused. As a student, I must be learning-focused. For me to be successful, both roles must co-habitate and complement each other.

My unique challenges began the moment I returned home from the ten-day January residency. Awaiting me were edit notes for multiple books, from two editors; an offer of two more books for an educational publisher; the impending arrival of a whole heap of manuscripts to be judged; And a heads-up from an editor about forthcoming edit notes on several more books. What a wonderful “problem” to have. Yet, some time, between now and February 16, I also need to have critical essays and creative work ready for my VCFA advisor. Am I stressing about it? You betcha! When I begin to feel overwhelmed, I remember that this is what I always dreamed of-this life of a working writer. As for school, well, I wanted that, too. My piled-up deadlines are temporary. I’ll get through this with a lot less television, social media, and blogging time. And a lot more time-management.


Two Causes Worth Supporting: We Need Diverse Books and Never Counted Out

Writers and Illustrators in the kidlit world are special people, don’t you think? Our goal is to wrangle empowerment, entertainment, engagement, and hopefullness for children. Sometimes, remarkable things blossom from this community of children’s writers and illustrators. Today, let’s talk about two movements that we should all support:

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization aiming to bring more books about diverse characters and more authors of color into disadvantaged classrooms. Additionally, they aim to support authors through grants and education while enlarging the conversation at conferences, etc. Check out the Indiegogo campaign site. Watch the brief video by well-known authors and consider donating toward the $100,000 goal. I just did!  And check out Elizabeth Bluemle’s article on Publisher’s Weekly’s Shelftalker:

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, author of three novels, including FAT ANGIE, began something remarkable, too. It started as a book tour, but blossomed into a movement when she heard of a 13-year-old boy who had contemplated suicide. She asked to meet with him and they changed each other’s lives. Eunice, as I know her, saw it as a call to action. She packed everything she owned into a storage unit, rented a car, and drove across the country, talking with at-risk youth and bringing the power of pen on paper with her. In the process, she filmed a documentary about kids on the fringe and how art can give a voice to the voiceless. I had the pleasure of attending a screening of At Risk Summer at this weekend’s Texas Book Festival. To say it was powerful would be an understatement. And this is just the beginning. Eunice’s organization, Never Counted Out, now aims to bring authors and artists to wherever kids are who have been subjected to bullying, dysfunctional home life, a history of drugs or suicide attempts, homelessness, a lack of emotional support, hopelessness. She is changing lives! Learn more about the movement, the documentary, and how you can add your support here. 
Learn more at Never Counted Out.
View the trailer for the documentary, At Risk Summer here.


A half-mast kind of day. Reflecting on the Connecticut Tragedy

Like the rest of the country, I’ve been in a state of shock, grief, and confusion since last Friday’s horrifying tragedy in Connecticut. My heart goes out to the families of the slain victims, to the responding emergency personnel who will be forever changed by their traumatic duty, and to the Newtown community whose very foundation has been shaken to the core.

I do not know how to survive the loss of a child, a mother, a spouse, a friend by such sinister means. There is no reasoning to be conjured. No magic elixir to offer relief. Except that, we are a country of compassionate, empathetic neighbors eager to shoulder some of the burden to help our fellow man. I hope those suffering will find some solace in knowing that we are here to bolster them through the long and painful healing ahead.

May peace and light and comfort come to all who are grieving right now.


What’s coming up next on my blog

Whew! I polished up my newest WIP, sent it through my trusted critiquers, and buckled down in revision mode for a while. A few days ago, I sent this new project off to my agent. It’s likely she’ll ask for more revisions before it goes out into the world. That’s okay.  It’s all forward motion. It feels good to stay productive while awaiting word from the publisher interested in my other project. And it feels good to be back on my blog.

I recently wrote about expanding my own vision beyond pure narrative nonfiction. I’ve spent the last few months reading armloads of fictionalized and creatively told picture book biographies, paying special attention to storytelling devices. It’s been a fascinating study, really.

For the next month or so, I’ll share some of my observations and recommend related titles as examples, for anyone itching to add some fictional elements to a nonfiction subject. I’ll explore the use of:

First person POV (not autobiography).
Invented characters and scenes
Nonfiction told in rhyme, verse, and song lyric
Present tense.
Alternating points of view.
As a tall tale.
Dramatic point of view.
Present tense.
Second person point of view.

I’ll try to coerce some authors to pop in for related interviews soon, too.