So Many Books, So Little Space

A stack of books stands as sentinel at my bedside. My husband’s side towers equally high. My daughter’s bedroom…. well, let’s just say that she got a double dose of the book-loving gene and her shelves are packed.


            In my twenties and thirties I moved so much that my belongings were forced through a regular winnowing process. You can only pack so many books before you start giving them away to your college roommate, whose father arrived with a pickup truck, or that neighbor who had his own “Free Lending Library” before it became fashionable. Though I kept the ones that were close to my heart, I have given away or sold most of the books I have ever owned mainly because I had to.

            Now I have been in the same house for more than twenty years. My family has read thousands of books in that time, many of which we’ve owned. We’ve been in the same book club for two decades. Our friends and family have written books that we want to read. But I haven’t built a personal book annex to store all these precious things, and no time to reread them if I did store them.


            What to do?

            Here’s what I do: I belong to Paperback Swap. It is a combination swap meet (in the true sense of the word) and buddy-book-exchange. It is a winning combination of celebrating the love of reading and making way for future books to adore.


            What is Paperback Swap?

            It is a huge, revolving list of books that are mailed from the home of one reader to another. (At this moment, there are 4,580,492 books available to swap).

            It is a low-cost way to obtain books you really want to read, or need to own. I got my high school-age daughter’s five required summer books this year through trade.

            It is a way to share books you’ve loved but don’t need to keep.

            How does it work?

            First, you register. You need a valid email, a valid USPS mailing address, and books you want to swap. You’ll put a little money in your account—via Paypal or a credit card. Then, you enter the ISBN numbers of the books you want to swap. You’ll get a couple of free credits for listing your first ten books, and you can request two books with those credits. Just browse in the “library” for books that interest you (or leave a request, and when that book is available somewhere, you’ll get a note). When you find books you want, simply click to order, and the member will send them to you, postage paid. You can keep them forever or swap them again after reading them.

            When members request books from you, you’ll get an email and note in your inbox. When you accept the request, you can preprint the book mailer at home, wrap it around the book, and send it off without going to the post office. The postage on the mailer is deducted from your account. You don’t need an envelope or anything special. When the member receives the book, you get a credit for another free book! All books are guaranteed to be in good condition, with covers and no excessive wear. Most that I have received have been in nearly new condition.

            I think of Paperback Swap as an enormous river of books that I can add to or dip into as desired. And what is better than a moving supply of books?

            Give it a try!



Secret Nighttime Reading

As a teenager, I often was awake well past midnight reading, but I also had endless amounts of energy and could function the next morning.  These days, not so much.  If I’m not asleep by 11p.m., the next day is truly a struggle, and one needs mucho energy when managing 13- and 14-year-olds.  If you recall my last post, my school year is coming to a close, which means I’ll have some much-needed time off.

This is why Ginger’s last post has me PUMPED for summer.  And when I say PUMPED, I mean it.  I often revert to my teenage schedule and my nocturnal tendencies during the summer.  Well into the wee hours of the morning, my little light is on, and I am reading reading reading.  I’m psyched to spend those hours with friends- not literally, of course; however, Ginger reminded me of not only the books that would be coming out soon, but of the books that have recently arrived and are waiting to be read.

I’ll spend all summer with Adi Rule, Robin Herrera, Sarah Ellis, Ann Westrick, Catherine Linka, and Varian Johnson.  Into the wee hours of the morning, I will escape into the worlds they have created.  I love that feeling- when my eyes begin to droop at 3a.m., but I MUST finish this page, this chapter, this entire book.  Everything else fades away- the room I’m in, the house I’m in, the neighborhood I’m in- and I’m just that teenage girl again, listening to the deep sounds of night, reading until the sun comes up.

What are your summer reading suggestions?



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While many people in the publishing world were traipsing about the Javits Center this past weekend reveling in books, books, and more books, I was painting my bathroom in stripes. Black and white stripes. Like prison wear.

I’m not bitter; I actually quite like the bathroom.


I really wish I could have been an ARC-angel this weekend, swooping down on publishers’ booths and snatching a few coveted titles. I recognize that an angel would never steal, let alone cut in front of a line of hundreds of people, but whatever. I’m going with it.

larissaFirst, I would have snagged a copy of our own Larissa Theule’s Fat & Bones and Other Stories, coming from Carolrhoda Books in October. I have looked forward to reading this for five years, from the first time I heard Larissa read from it. I’ve been haunted by piggy blood ever since. 10289856_10152503920631255_919711931469942973_nDuring our retreat in 2012 she read another story, and I was simply and utterly blown away. Larissa is a brilliant and funny and quirky writer and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book.

Aren’t the illustrations by Adam S. Doyle gorgeous?

Next on my wish list would be a copy of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, available in September from Dial. I adore Jandy’s lush prose almost as much as I adore Jandy herself. And if you haven’t yet read her debut, The Sky is Everywhere, drop what you’re doing right now and get thyself to a bookstore, or else I’ll lock you up in my jail-bathroom. Jandy

Hm. That doesn’t sound very angelic.

Ok, halo back on, I would swoop down and grab a copy of Mette Ivie Harrison’s latest book, an adult mystery called The Bishop’s Wife, mettecoming in December from Soho. I had the pleasure of meeting Mette this past weekend and talking to her about this book, which was inspired by a real-life tragedy. The protagonist is a Mormon bishop’s wife investigating the disappearance of a woman in her congregation. I got the sense that this book covers the Mormon experience in general, as well as male/female dynamics in the church and real-life marital issues, all wrapped up in a mystery. Being Mormon myself, I look forward to reading a book that speaks to my culture.

Then, of course, if my ARC-angel wings weren’t droopy, I’d slide in for copies of Trent Reedy’s latest, If You’re Reading This, coming in August from Arthur A. Levine Books and Mikki Knudsen’s Evil Librarian, coming in September from Candlewick.

Evil Librarian jacket trent

Alas, I am not an ARC-angel, and thus I have no ARCs. If anyone wants to take pity on me, feel free to send any of these my way. In return, I’d be happy to take you on a personal tour of my striped bathroom.



And teachers rejoice…or do they?

It’s the end of the school year. Again.

As June approaches, New York City teachers rejoice. Or at least that’s what most people think.

In fact, like so many of my peers, I go through a spectrum of emotions.   The following list sums up just some of them. Please add yours in the comments section below.

Excitement: The year is almost over! In one month I will have the time to sleep late, exercise, write, and nap.

Panic: How are we going to finish everything we need to finish before the year is over? It’s impossible.

Disbelief: I can’t believe the year is almost over! There’s no way that there is only one month left.

Resignation: Oh, well. If we don’t finish everything before the year is over, we don’t finish it.

Pleasure: I made it through the year, and I think I did a pretty good job.

Frustration: Why are we even still in school? Isn’t the year over yet?

Curiosity: What am I going to do once the year is over? What are my students going to do all summer?

Confidence: I WILL make it to the end of the year. I can do it.

Anger: Why won’t my students listen to me? Why are we still in school in June?

Premature Nostalgia: I’m really going to miss my students once this year is over. I miss them already. I’m going to try and enjoy every moment left with them.


An Open Letter to Unpublished Writers



Dear Unpublished Writer,

When you started writing, you happily proclaimed yourself to be a writer. After all, that’s what everyone told you to do: own it. Claim it. And so you did, certain that you would publish any day.

But years have gone by…and you haven’t published yet. When you meet people and they ask you what you do, you dread the answer, no longer so willing to claim the title of “writer” because you know what comes next: “Are you published?”

To which you always answer sheepishly: “It takes a long time. I’ve got things in the pipeline.”

Invariably, the person you’ve just met will turn away, no longer interested. Or at least that’s your perception. You begin to think of yourself not as WRITER, but as UNPUBLISHED writer, a synonym for LOSER.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If so, allow me the privilege of re-branding you. Unpublished Writer, I hereby title you APPRENTICE. You are serving your apprenticeship. You are not in purgatory. You are not a loser. You are right where you’re supposed to be.

I think I first heard this term applied to writers by Martine Leavitt. I was whining about discussing my writing and she simply noted that I was serving my apprenticeship.

One of my characters is a medieval apprentice, so I’ve done plenty of research on apprenticeships. In medieval times, an apprentice performed low-level tasks while observing their masters and gradually learning the skills of the trade, usually for a period of seven years.

Seven years, my friends. Seven years of chopping wood, stoking the fire, grinding pigment, sharpening knives. Seven years of labor.

This April marked my seventh year writing seriously. Seven years of character development, reading, plot structure, narrative arc, voice, point of view, conflict, scene, backstory, pacing, dialogue, butt-in-chair, conferences, and emotional ups and downs. Seven years of labor (but with better plumbing, better nutrition, and fewer fleas than medieval apprentices). It’s been quite a journey. It hasn’t been easy, but I value it more than I can say.

Though my apprenticeship isn’t over yet, experience has taught me a few things about making the period of apprenticeship easier:

  1. Recognize your apprenticeship. Call a spade, a spade. Sometimes the act of naming something gives you control over it. If it helps, write the word APPRENTICE on your bathroom mirror in soap, so every morning and every night you’ll be reminded. Stick post-it notes to your steering wheel (The Apprentice Mobile). When you order a fancy hot beverage du jour ask the barista to put an “A” in cream on top (no, not the Hester Prynne letter A). Drink your apprenticeship in. Recognize that you are a writer-in-process.
  2. Serve your apprenticeship. It’s ok to be in the process. You may desire overnight success — our society primes people for instant gratification — but appearances are deceiving: what may look like an overnight success for a writer might hide years and years of hard work. There’s no cheating–an apprenticeship must be served, regardless of whether it is public or private. Ars longa, vita breva, or as Geoffrey Chaucer said, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Trust the process. Take the time to learn the craft of writing in an integrated way. 
  3. Honor your apprenticeship. Be grateful for those who have helped you along the way, then pay it forward. There are so many opportunities to learn the craft of writing, in part because the children’s writing community is so generous. Respect the things you have learned, and teach them to someone else who is an apprentice.

Go forward and create, Apprentice, until you become Master.

Hello, Map Art Lab!

The plans were made, and remade. The art was done, torn up and discarded, and done again. And again.

We made lists. Then new lists. Then back to the old lists.

We painted, drew, beaded, collaged, stenciled, layered, traced and cut away.

Contributors sent work from across the globe and over oceans.

Then we waited.

Saw the proofs, made notes, wrote corrections.

Saw more proofs, made more corrections. Added and subtracted.

Went through another set of proofs. Then closed the envelope, sealed it and said good bye.

And now, hello.

Hello, book!

Welcome, Map Art Lab!

Join our blog hop, starting on Wednesday, for lots of chances to win a copy of Map Art Lab, with co-author, Jill Berry. Here’s the schedule:
May 7 Linden McNeilly
May 8 Kim Rae Nugent
May 9 Debbie Gonzalez
May 9 Cynthia Morris
May 10 Amy Smith
May 12 Sean Corcoran
May 13 Janet Fox
May 14 Tony Kehlhofer
May 15 Laurie Mika
May 16 Jill Berry

The Writing Process – Author Blog Tour


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My friend Rachel Wilson, Rachauthor of the soon to be released YA novel Don’t Touch, invited me to participate in this blog tour about the writing process. Every author on the tour answers some questions about his or her own writing don't touchprocess, and then tags two other authors to answer next. Rachel asked me to participate. And she’s way too special to me to ever say no! Keep your eye out on her career. She’s going to kill it. You can read her responses here; mine are below!

What am I currently working on?

spankyAfter finishing my MG novel, SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son, I gave up my writer’s horse (yes, horse) to become a boat captain and navigator. However, since we’re docked for an extended time, I’m back in the saddle again.  At the risk of sounding Sybilesque, my moods decide the project on which I’ll work.  Whimsical playful moods can only be sated by picture book writing in rhyme—the most difficult writing there is if you want to do it well. I love the irony in that. I have at least six picture books in various states of revision.

miss amBut my go-to project is a MG novel set in 1968 at the time of the famous Miss America Pageant protest where women had intended to burn  their bras. I am completing it’s zillionth revision in preparation to market it traditionally some day soon.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Argh! I’ve written the answer to this question three times. Okay. Call it a philosophical-difference block. I’ll say that my work differs from others in my genre by voice, plot and character arcs; by how I kick off my stories, by my tone, my selection of setting and theme etc. etc.—all the choices that make every writer’s manuscript completely unique—even if they’re similar sounding stories.

But okay, I tend to write stories that echo my pre-teen years, surviving bullies, brothers, and coming of age wonders and difficulties, but that hardly differentiates me. I lived in my imagination for most of my childhood and adoles— okay, for my whole life and my MCs tend to as well. That is, until they figure out that to survive, you have to act (or become a MG writer!)

Why do I write what I write?

Without fail, I don’t find out what I’m writing about, why I’ve written it, or what epiphany I will come to through the process until I reach the end of the first draft. That’s when I realize what the story was really about. And I have to rewrite the whole thing. Like many MG writers, I’m stuck in that stage of my life, trying to make sense of it all. I guess you could say I’m unveiling early agnsts and rewriting how they turn out by adding what had been missing the first time–empowerment.

How does my individual writing process work?

Back to the Sybil and my moods . . .   Truly, my unusual life dictates my actual process. Living on a boat, some days, I am captaining, navigating, or doing crew work (provisioning, cleaning, cooking, repairing, or maintenance). In a way, it’s the same as living in a house and leading a normal life. No. Really, it’s not at all like a normal life. The urgency of attention, response, and action is heightened on a boat. And I am attention challenged–it’s impossible not to be distracted by changes in sounds and scenery. Finding my way into the fictive dream doesn’t work well for me when we’re moving. So when I’m “off duty,” I revise and edit.  After we’re docked, I can dig in and become a writer again.

sue_laneveAnd that’s my story! I’m tagging two more authors who’ll be sharing their
answers with you next week, so be sure to visit their blogs!


Next up on the blog tour:

I met Janeen Mason through Florida SCBWI, drawn by her talent, but more so by her generosity of spirit.Janeen Besides her Ocean Commotion series and MANY other picture books, check out Janeen’s accolades as an author/illustrator: Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, the National Award for Excellence in Communities, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the iParenting Media Award, and more. And that is only the whisper of a breath about a woman who inspires children, artists, and art collectors everywhere. On Monday, May 5th, she’ll be sharing her process at

Lisa Doan and I met while gorging ourselves on MFAs from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She was THE funniest person on campus. And she brings that amazing humor to her work. Lisa writes middle grade. (She will tell you herself that she will never be mature enough to write YA). Her series, The Berenson Schemes, launched 4/1/2014 with Jack the Castaway. It follows the quest for survival of sensible Jack as he is continually lost in a foreign wilderness by his insensible parents Richard and Claire. Lisa identifies with Richard and Claire, having spent a large amount of her adulthood roaming the planet, but this has led to the uncomfortable idea that she, like them, may have misplaced offspring somewhere. But she figures nearly everywhere has cell phone service these days, so she’ll just wait for a call. (Secret message she sends to lost offspring – First, it was an adventure. Second, Sorry ‘bout that – call me!)

You can learn about Lisa’s writing process next Monday, May 5th, at



Cruising Across the Page

Writing is a lot like driving.   Or should I say driving is a lot like writing?

IMG_3291Sometimes, it’s all stop and go, like driving in the city. Rarely, you’ll catch a synchronized string of green lights, speed up to the limit and cruise, only to be stopped by the next red. More often than not, you never quite reach that full speed. You go, then stop, then go, then stop. A red light. A stop sign. A yield. But at least you’re getting somewhere.

Sometimes, it’s downright Sunday-night, driving-back-into-the-city traffic.   It’s frustrating.   You’re sitting and waiting, and you’re getting absolutely nowhere. You know that at the end of your journey, something great awaits – home – but getting there takes times and patience. And sometimes, you have neither. photo 2

Sometimes, you break the speed limit and GO GO GO! only to be stopped by a cop hiding on the side of the road. You wait for what seems like forever while to ticket is written, and when you’re finally on your way again, the momentum is gone.

Sometimes, it’s driving in the mountains in an unreliable car. You may have traveled thousands of miles without a problem and climbed to the top. You’re feeling great when all of a sudden there is a horrible thumping photo 1sound, and you discover you will be stranded for five hours waiting for repairs. Or your fuel pump goes, and the uphill battles are only relieved by the slight downhill slopes, and you move 15mph on a 55mph road. Repairs also take hours, but once the work is done, you soar down those mountains without looking back.

photo 3And then sometimes, just sometimes – not all the time, and not when you need it to happen – the traffic clears, the car behaves, and the land levels. You slide into cruise control. You speed across the desert and the prairie, over the mountains, through the suburbs, across the bridge, through the tunnel, onto the highway, and suddenly, you are home. You’re not sure how you got there so quickly; you didn’t expect to make such good time, but you did.

You forget about the stop and go and the stalled highways. Your car has and always will be the best car ever. Getting home wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be.

If fact, that wasn’t bad at all.   Maybe you’ll take the car out for a spin again sometime soon.



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I recently had a great time speaking at the annual retreat in Writing Novels for Young People at VCFA, organized by Sarah Aronson and Cindy Faughnan. As part of my talk, I shared one of my favorite theater games that translates well to writing, the Essence Game.

I didn’t make it up and have no idea who did, but it’s basically a game of metaphors. One person leaves the room to act as the guesser, and everyone else chooses someone in the room to describe. When the guesser returns, she asks questions about the mystery person’s essence—such as, “if this person were an animal, what animal would she be?” “If he were a piece of furniture?” “A condiment?” 

My acting teacher in college gave our class assignments to write metaphors like these in our character journals. The characters in my debut novel, Don’t Touch, try it out on Hamlet and Ophelia. Peter asks Caddie:

“What’s Ophelia’s favorite ice cream flavor?”

“Did they have ice cream in Denmark back then?”

“Doesn’t matter. Hamlet’s taking Ophelia to the ice cream social. What does she order?”

“Um. How about lemon sorbet?

“Ooh, I like it. Simple, clean.”

“What about Hamlet?”

“I think Hamlet’s got to be a rocky road kind of guy.”

“So wait, is this supposed to be the kind of ice cream he would eat, or the kind of ice cream that he is?”

“It’s an essence thing,” he says. “Instinct.”

I suggest that you play a mini-version of this game with your characters. Come up with five highly modified metaphors. And these aren’t about association; they’re about essence.

What kind of weather is Harry Potter? You might be tempted to say lightning–I mean, there’s a lightning bolt on his face—but does Harry move through the world, interact with his friends, or approach his problems with the character of lightning? Not so much.

To me, Harry’s more like a sun ray cutting through clouds on a brisk and gloomy day. You might think of something wildly different, or you might think of multiple metaphors for different moments in a character’s story. That’s cool. This is just for you.

In acting class, our metaphors became the source material for physicality and vocal choices. When I chose a corkscrew as a metaphor for Marlene in Top Girls, that object’s shape, tension, and spiraling action fed into the way my Marlene sat at her desk, the way she held a pen, the way she pivoted on a single sharp high heel.

For writing, your metaphors might become objects in your characters’ rooms, a part of the setting that surrounds them in an important scene, or a part of the language you use to describe them. They might even inform whether you focus on soft or hard sounds or the rhythm with which your characters speak.

Try coming up with metaphors to fit these categories, and then see if you can incorporate one of them into a scene. What if your character were . . .

A type of weather

A piece of furniture

A type of cuisine

A color

An animal

A utensil

A TV show

A game

A profession

A piece of art

A landscape

A tree

Something you can purchase at a 7-11

A literary genre

A person you knew in college . . .

You never know which metaphor might unlock a door in your brain, so feel free to make up your own. And remember, it’s a game, so have fun playing!


“I Love You Baby, Can I Have Some More?”


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Businesspersons at Water CoolerYou know me. I’m a regular at the social network water cooler, either scrolling for updates or  passing posts. We’ve met, right? No? Friend me!

But oh lordy, I’d really rather you didn’t. Thing is, there simply is no way I can keep up with what others think I should know! It’s like I’ve created my own FEED (ala M. T. Anderson’s dystrophic tale).

Sometimes I want to unplug forever. But, will you remember me if I do?


Remember passing notes in elementary school? My friends and I could speak multiple times during the day and night, yet there was nothing more tantalizing than finding a folded-up note secretly placed in a palm, or locker, or desk, scribbled full of rants, inspirations, worries, invitations, and dramas. Always the dramas.

Skip forward to the internet spreading its broadbands with Compuserve and Prodigy and AOL, oh my. I quickly learned to pass notes in cyberspace. Friends Reunited and Friendster courted me. Soon Friendster begot MySpace, Friends Reunited begot Classmates who begot Six Degrees, AOL Chat, Live Journal, and Linkedin. Been there, done them all.

Then that damn college kid at Harvard introduced THE FACEBOOK which insidiously came knocking at my cellar door I love you baby can I have some more. Ooh, ooh the damage (was) done. Officially hooked, I soon had to have more, gorging on Itunes, Podcasting, and blogs.  Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube added to my high.

Now the sound of the Social Network explosion is deafening with Tumblr, Google+, VK, Flickr, Tagged, AskFM, Meetup, Meetme, Reddit, Mashable, Foursquare, Stumbleupon, Path, GetGlue, Gowalla, Highlight, Creepy, Vine, Snapchat, KiK, Pheed,,
Oye vey.

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Signing on absorbs me when I let it, and like a magnet, I’m drawn to the exchange of political views. I seek truth and am teased into a false sense of security to speak openly, to reveal truths I may or may not be entirely ready to share. Did you “Like” my post?

Oh, whose counting. ;)

I am fascinated by the construction of personal “brands” via social networking. Amazing posts leading to brilliant conversations appear and suddenly disappear for fear of repercussion, for fear of the affect or effect a comment or opinion could have on one’s job, or family or sales.

Friends and peers who are clearly uncomfortable with the medium force themselves to network online or be seen as a marketing failure and left behind. Business perspicacity demands social networking = connections = influence = success. The medium has created careers. Lost your job? Get your Social Media Certificate! Become a search engine optimizer (SEO). Or a social media strategist or copywriter.

I get a kick out of those who announce their brief departures from the grid, as if signing off for a few minutes is the same as taking a trip to Mars, as if it needs to be announced, as if the world demands their immediate reaction and response and will be panicked without this knowledge of the minutia. I get a bigger kick out of those who get this, but do so for wit’s sake.

Still, loved ones who have signed off for weeks or permanently worry me and I want to know why. They probably won’t be reading this though.

Like a drug roller coaster, my spirits either lift, plummet, or drag when I reconnect with people I’ve missed dearly or with others I so wanted to forget.

My family shares photos and birthdays, births and deaths.
As do my friends.
As do my acquaintances.
As do people I really don’t know well enough to care about.

Sounds so harsh in this connected world.


The best part of this frenzy is when it’s like sitting in the wine pit with dear friends, hearing about their good news, book releases, and babies, and feeling the hugs and cheers over mine. The overwhelming part is having access to more information than I could read in a lifetime.

And that’s the problem.

I imagine an evil pusherman discouraging my productivity, turning me into a sloth. Or that I’m living in a 1984ish worldTrapped by technology where my perspective is fed and manipulated, where I’ve been forced to surrender my actual time interacting with live flora and fauna and flotsum and friends. The evil ones laugh at my lack of fresh air and exercise, at the books I’ll never read and the quality time I won’t spend with people I love because of my addiction.

Woman snorting cocaine or amphetamines, internet addiction

There. I’ve said it. I am an addict.  “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done. A little part of it in everyone.” 

Then again, maybe, just maybe, I haven’t stopped being that elementary school kid, still wanting to pass notes, to share rants, inspirations, worries, invitations, and always the dramas.

I’m determined to avoid the water-cooler and more fully imbibe my amazing life.

But will you forget me if I do?


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