2017 in review, and a sneak peek at 2018 goals


If you’ve fol­lowed my blog for a long time (or know me at all), you prob­a­bly know I can be a lit­tle obses­sive about set­ting goals and doing annu­al per­for­mance reviews. So, as 2017 comes to a close, I thought I should reflect on what I’ve accom­plished the past year and think about what 2018 might bring.
One of my main goals for 2017 was to get more com­fort­able speak­ing in pub­lic.  It’s a good thing I was able to do that, since (and prob­a­bly because) I got a lot of prac­tice! Here’s a quick summary:

  • 24 keynotes, assem­blies, pre­sen­ta­tions, or work­shops for young people,
  • 17 Skype visits,
  • 7 pre­sen­ta­tions for adults,
  • 6 book­store appearances,
  • 2 round­table cri­tique sessions,
  • 1 radio inter­view, and
  • an 8‑week improv class.

The suc­cess I feel here isn’t so much from the quan­ti­ty, but from the qual­i­ty. First, it’s got­ten MUCH eas­i­er for me. I can do these talks in stride now and don’t stress out for a whole day pri­or and then need a whole day after to decom­press. That’s a big win! Also, the improv class was odd­ly ter­ri­fy­ing to think about, but so much fun and such a great expe­ri­ence in prac­tice. So, I’m real­ly glad that I pushed myself out of my com­fort zone.
I also had some suc­cess with major writ­ing goals and projects:

  • TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! was released in June, and I put a lot of time put into pro­mo­tion, includ­ing devel­op­ing pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als like cur­ricu­lum guides and swag, and cre­at­ing new pre­sen­ta­tions around it.
  • We’re just now putting the final touch­es on the sec­ond book in the series, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: HISTORIES AND MYSTERIES, which we researched, draft­ed, revised, copy­edit­ed, and sourced pho­tos for all in the past year. This one is so good, I can’t wait to see it out in the world next June!
  • We have the out­line for the third TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE book just about wrapped up, too, so 2018 will see a lot of work (and fun!) on that front.
  • I wrote a brand-new pic­ture book from scratch, revised it, and it went out on sub­mis­sion! I’m hope­ful this one will find a home in 2018.
  • I revised my MG non­fic­tion project and sent it back out on sub­mis­sion. Alas, it looks like this one will need yet anoth­er fresh approach, which is also on the sched­ule for 2018. I’m mulling over a cou­ple of ideas about how to proceed.
  • I worked on revis­ing two oth­er pic­ture books, one fic­tion and one non­fic­tion, but nei­ther one is quite ready yet. More work to come on both of those in the year ahead, and hope­ful­ly they’ll be ready to send out soon.
  • I start­ed research­ing a new pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. I’m real­ly excit­ed about this one, and the research so far has only fueled my inter­est fur­ther. I hope I can com­plete a first draft in the com­ing year.
  • I had a new idea for anoth­er non­fic­tion pic­ture book and have start­ed research­ing that one as well. This one is still in the idea phase and will take some noodling to get just the right approach, so for now I’ll keep research­ing and think­ing and see what happens.

As you can see from the above, I’ll have my work cut out for me in 2018 with one new book to pro­mote, one under con­tract to write, (at least) two pic­ture books to fin­ish revis­ing, the MG non­fic­tion to re-envi­sion, and the two new pic­ture books to research and draft. Phew — that’s a lot of big goals. Wish me luck! =D

Author interview with Tara Dairman and book #giveaway!

The Great Hibernation cover
A very hap­py book birth­day to Tara Dair­man and her lat­est mid­dle-grade nov­el, The Great Hiber­na­tion! This sto­ry has mys­tery, pol­i­tics, com­ing of age, sci­ence, and a healthy dose of girl pow­er, and it’s avail­able NOW from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Ran­dom House. I loved it, and I high­ly rec­om­mend it!
As a spe­cial treat, Tara agreed to do an inter­view for us today. So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s hear from Tara!
LAT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
TD: A wide vari­ety, I hope! Fans of my All Four Stars series should enjoy the humor and the food­ie ele­ments that those books share with The Great Hiber­na­tion. But I think that Hiber­na­tion will also draw in read­ers who like mys­tery, zany/madcap adven­ture, and a bit of polit­i­cal con­tent, too. Plus, I just have to say, my mom real­ly likes it. She pret­ty much told me it’s her favorite of all my books. 🙂
LAT: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I also real­ly loved this one. How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion? What were your incen­tives for stick­ing with it?
TD: I first got the idea in 2013… from a dream! In the dream, two kids were out in freez­ing open water in a tiny boat, try­ing to flag down a big­ger boat to help them because some­thing had gone ter­ri­bly wrong back on shore in their town. When I woke up, I knew I had to find out who those kids were and what had gone wrong. (And that dream inspired one of my favorite scenes in the whole book.)
LAT: I remem­ber that scene! There are some great details and obser­va­tions in that one, as well as oth­ers. It seems like a ton of research must have gone into this book to get those details right. Can you tell us about that? How was that dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous books? Do you think you’ll get to reuse any of that research in future stories?
TD: Work­ing on The Great Hiber­na­tion did give me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to research a lot of fun top­ics, from sheep farm­ing to Thai cui­sine to liv­er func­tion. I was lucky to have some expert beta and sen­si­tiv­i­ty read­ers look at the man­u­script and answer my ques­tions at var­i­ous points to that I could make those details as authen­tic as pos­si­ble. As for the small town of St. Polo­nius-on-the-Fjord (where the book is set), it’s loose­ly inspired by the north­ern coast of Ice­land. I had the plea­sure of trav­el­ing through that area a few years ago, so when I was draft­ing, I did have a sharp pic­ture in my head of what the town and its envi­rons would look like.
TD: I kind of doubt I’ll ever get to reuse any of my research, but if I write anoth­er book in which a sheep needs to go down a stair­case… well, I know now that he can. (With a lit­tle help!)
LAT: Were there any sur­pris­es or stum­bling blocks along the way to the fin­ished draft? How did you end up deal­ing with that?
TD: I strug­gled to get the open­ing chap­ter right for this book. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion and back­sto­ry to con­vey, plus a lot of char­ac­ters to intro­duce, and of course I didn’t want things to feel info-dumpy. I start­ed over from scratch sev­er­al times—and then, after I sold the book for pub­li­ca­tion, I threw the whole first chap­ter out and rewrote it all over again. Luck­i­ly, my beta read­ers, edi­tors, and I all real­ly loved the final ver­sion, so I got there in the end!
LAT: Oh, I can cer­tain­ly relate to that! Per­sis­tence is the key, right? To that point, though, how do you decide when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent?
TD: When I lit­er­al­ly can­not fath­om look­ing at it for a sin­gle sec­ond more. 🙂 (That is usu­al­ly after I’ve done at least two major revi­sions on my own based on cri­tique part­ner feed­back, though. My agent nev­er sees my ear­li­est drafts!)
Tara Dairman author photo
LAT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this par­tic­u­lar book?
TD: I’ve learned that, just because a book doesn’t pitch well, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good book. My agent and I orig­i­nal­ly tried to sell this book on pro­pos­al, and the feed­back we got from edi­tors was that they liked the sam­ple chap­ters but thought that the pro­posed plot sound­ed… well, a lit­tle crazy. It turned out I just had to write the whole book for them to see that I could pull the crazy plot off.
LAT: Wow! It sounds like you took quite a leap of faith with this one. (And I’m so glad you did!) Was that your tough­est moment on the path to pub­li­ca­tion or were there oth­ers, and how did you make it over that hurdle?
TD: I’d still say that fin­ish­ing the first draft of my first book (All Four Stars) was the hard­est thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d dreamed of being a nov­el­ist since child­hood, but until I actu­al­ly fin­ished writ­ing a book, I didn’t know whether I could do it or not! And that one lit­tle book took me years upon years. Writ­ing “the end,” though—definitely one of the best moments of my life.
LAT: What tricks have you learned for bal­anc­ing your writ­ing time with the demands of keep­ing up with the indus­try, pro­mot­ing exist­ing work, tak­ing care of your home and fam­i­ly, per­son­al recre­ation and self-care, etc.?
TD: Oy vey. I’m still learn­ing! I have bad days and bet­ter days. What I have learned over the last few years is that “bal­ance” is going to look dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the month, the week, the day. There are going to be stretch­es when I’m writ­ing almost every day and real­ly in that cre­ative zone. And there are going to be stretch­es when a book release is loom­ing, or a new baby is get­ting born, and I don’t do any cre­ative work at all for weeks or months. And that’s okay! I’m not a great mul­ti­tasker any­way, so I’d rather real­ly focus on what­ev­er is call­ing to me most in the moment—which is a priv­i­lege that I know not every author can afford.
TD: In short, I guess I’d say that bal­ance has become a long game for me, rather than some­thing I’m able to accom­plish on a dai­ly basis.
LAT: Excel­lent advice. I sus­pect that know­ing it’s a long game is the #1 secret to find­ing that ever-elu­sive “bal­ance.” So, what are you work­ing on right now?
TD: I do have a mid­dle-grade WIP that I’m hop­ing to get back to once The Great Hiber­na­tion is prop­er­ly launched into the world. But I’m also hav­ing a baby in Novem­ber, so once he or she arrives, my focus will like­ly be off writ­ing for at least a few months.
LAT: Con­grat­u­la­tions! I’m def­i­nite­ly look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more about that adven­ture (and see­ing pictures)!! 
LAT: Before I let you go, what do you wish I would’ve asked you that I didn’t, and why?
TD: I wish you’d asked me “What are some of your oth­er favorite recent mid­dle-grade books?” There are SO many good ones out this year! My answer would be:

  • Con­tem­po­rary: Sat­ur­days with Hitch­cock by Ellen Wittlinger
  • Non­fic­tion: Poi­son by Sarah Albee; Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son and Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Mys­tery: The World’s Great­est Detec­tive by Car­o­line Carlson
  • Humor: This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Made­lyn Rosenberg
  • His­tor­i­cal: Bob­by Lee Clare­mont and the Crim­i­nal Ele­ment by Jean­nie Mob­ley; The Last Grand Adven­ture by Rebec­ca Behrens (com­ing 3/18)
  • Fan­ta­sy: The Changelings and In a Dark Land by Christi­na Soontornvat

TD: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
LAT: Thanks for the shout-out for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!Tara. (I swear, I did NOT put her up to that!) And thank you so much for vis­it­ing today and answer­ing all of my ques­tions. I’ll be rec­om­mend­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion far and wide, and I wish you much con­tin­u­ing suc­cess in ALL of your endeavors! 
Find out more about The Great Hiber­na­tion by Tara Dair­man hereAnd leave a com­ment below for a chance to win your own copy!

UPDATE: The give­away win­ner is Jen­naO! Con­grat­u­la­tions, JennaO!!

Author event: the Stratos Oktoberfest open house

A few weeks ago I had the plea­sure of being the spe­cial guest at an incred­i­ble event, Stratos Prod­uct Devel­op­ment’s annu­al com­pa­ny open house. The com­pa­ny is men­tioned on page 138 of my book Be a Change­mak­er, because they were one of the orig­i­nal fun­ders of Edward Jiang’s Stu­den­tRND ven­ture, which I pro­filed in chap­ter 12.
Stratos Oktoberfest banner
As you can see, this year’s theme was Okto­ber­fest, and they went all out with dec­o­ra­tions, food, bev­er­ages, and even a pol­ka band!
polka band
It’s too bad I did­n’t get a chance to dance, but I was hav­ing too much fun talk­ing with Stratos employ­ees and guests.
photo of author talking with attendee
I was warm­ly wel­comed, and folks seemed pret­ty excit­ed about Be a Change­mak­er, too.
attendees with Be a Changemaker
At one point, a storm picked up and we had to (quick­ly!) move every­thing inside, but that just made it eas­i­er to mingle.
mingling with attendees inside
And as atten­dees left for the evening, there were piles and piles of books for them to take home, all of which I signed and, if desired, per­son­al­ized (yes, my hand was tired!).
stacks of Be a Changemaker books
What a won­der­ful evening! I left feel­ing thor­ough­ly impressed with every­one I had talked to–and with the com­pa­ny itself for bring­ing them all together.
I’m ever so grate­ful to Stratos Prod­uct Devel­op­ment for includ­ing me. They’re the per­fect exam­ple of a for-prof­it busi­ness that is com­mit­ted to doing good in the world, and it was such an hon­or to participate.
Click here to check out all of the great pho­tos from the event, and here to see what this total­ly awe­some com­pa­ny is all about.

Interview with Mary Cronk Farrell, author of PURE GRIT

PURE GRIT book cover

I have a con­fes­sion to make. Nor­mal­ly I read every book before I post about it here, but–just this once–I was going to cheat. As much as I’ve been dying to read PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Far­rell, my to-do list is huge right now: writ­ing new books (I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on EIGHT sep­a­rate man­u­scripts and/or pro­pos­als!), pro­mot­ing BE A CHANGEMAKER, vol­un­teer projects (SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence any­one? There are still a few spaces!), cri­tiques (three full-length nov­els await!), fam­i­ly, pets, home… and let’s not for­get, TAXES! To top it off, I was still recov­er­ing from the flu when I came down with this most recent cold. I’m months behind on a few things, with many oth­er dead­lines loom­ing dead ahead. So, I sat down plan­ning to just skim it for the time being, write the post, and come back lat­er when I had time to set­tle in, read it in more detail, and take it all in.

PURE GRIT book cover
PURE GRIT book cover

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Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls

photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana

A few weeks ago, I post­ed this review of Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls’ most recent book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH. Kel­ly was kind enough to fol­low up that review with an incred­i­ble inter­view about the book and her writ­ing career. Please help me wel­come author Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls!
photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana
LT:  Hi Kel­ly, and thank for com­ing! I guess I have to start with the obvi­ous, though I’m fair­ly con­fi­dent I know the answer from read­ing the book: Do you believe in Sasquatch?
KMH:  I do not believe, 100%, that Sasquatch is real. I tend to be skep­ti­cal by nature—the jour­nal­ist in me. But I believe there are some very con­vinc­ing bits of evi­dence that sug­gest SOMETHING is out there—an ani­mal we haven’t yet defined and don’t real­ly under­stand. Too many reli­able peo­ple have wit­nessed too many amaz­ing things to ignore them.
LT:  What was/were the hard­est things about research­ing and/or writ­ing this book? How did you deal with that?
KMH:  I want­ed to be sure my wit­ness­es and experts were seri­ous peo­ple, not peo­ple who want­ed fame or glo­ry. There is noth­ing wrong with fame or glo­ry, but I want­ed peo­ple who were fact-cen­tered, so that required some hard work. I think I found good inter­view sub­jects to meet that stan­dard. Hope so.
LT:  Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
KMH:  The fact that Scott Nel­son believes Sasquatch may have its own lan­guage absolute­ly blew my socks off. His rea­son­ing is so clear and log­i­cal, it almost make my head explode. If that’s true, that’s a rea­son to pro­tect the “maybe” primate.
LT:  Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
KMH:  I took a num­ber of the pho­tos, but a won­der­ful Sasquatch inves­ti­ga­tor named Paul Graves from Yaki­ma, WA, was extreme­ly gen­er­ous about shar­ing his field pho­tographs for the book. He is also a musi­cian who writes Sasquatch songs, and he’s fea­tured in the book. But he was very gen­er­ous, and I’m grateful.
LT: How do you man­age all of your research for a book like this? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
KMH:  I keep elab­o­rate, well-backed up com­put­er files about each sub­ject, each top­ic, each chap­ter, so I can find my notes with ease. And there are so many notes. I read a dozen books, did more than two dozen inter­views and col­lect­ed dozens of images for this book. It was hard but amaz­ing work. It’s what I love to do.
LT:  How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
KMH:  As my chil­dren have grown into adult­hood, I have been able to trav­el more to get my infor­ma­tion first-hand, rather than on the tele­phone. Hav­ing both field and phone time real­ly adds rich­ness to the books I write and the pre­sen­ta­tions I give.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing this par­tic­u­lar book over­all, and how long did it take to write the book? Is that typical?
KMH:  Most of my books take between three and five years to research, then anoth­er year to write. I don’t like to rehash mate­r­i­al that already exists. I like to present new infor­ma­tion when­ev­er pos­si­ble and that takes time and effort.
LT: How do you know when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent or editor?
KMH:  The book isn’t even close to done when I send it to my edi­tors or agent. It’s a pro­pos­al. It maps out how I see the book once it’s com­plete and gives us all a place to start. But the book evolves con­sid­er­ably as we work togeth­er as a time. I’m sell­ing a con­cept that will change and improve as we all work on it, and that’s the mag­ic of the edi­to­r­i­al process.
LT:  Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
KMH:  Watch for the top­ics that YOU find most engag­ing and con­sid­er offer­ing them up to young read­ers. Your excite­ment, your sense of won­der will show through every word you write and the kids will feel the human con­nec­tion. If you are not excit­ed about your top­ic, that lack of enthu­si­asm will be just as clear to the young read­ers. So write about things the excite you. You’ll give the kids a rea­son to be excit­ed, too.
LT:  I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
KMH:  I have learned that we for­get our human­i­ty when it comes to ani­mals at times. But we can also renew it. The more you know about even an unknown crea­ture, the hard­er it is to sim­ply dis­re­gard or dis­re­spect it. It’s like my pet chick­ens. I can eat grilled chick­en with­out a blink of an eye. I love chick­en din­ner. But I could nev­er even con­sid­er eat­ing my pet chick­ens. You work hard­er not to hurt the things you under­stand well. Knowl­edge, explo­ration, is the key to more love, less hate. That is con­firmed every time I write a book and share it with kids.
LT:  I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
KMH:  I used to yearn for the day when I’d win a major non­fic­tion book award. Years went by, and it did­n’t hap­pen. Then I start­ed meet­ing kids—many of them boys, but girls too—who loved my books, kids who said I was their favorite author. I start­ed hear­ing sto­ries about kids who clung to my books like life jackets—kids who drew com­fort from MY books, award-win­ning or not. After that starts to hap­pen reg­u­lar­ly, you real­ize awards are love­ly, but the real mea­sure of suc­cess are those read­ers and their abil­i­ty to feel a lit­tle less alone because of some­thing you’ve giv­en them. That’s how I mea­sure suc­cess. If I have made your child’s life a lit­tle kinder, a lit­tle safer, I am the luck­i­est writer on earth.
LT:  What do you like to do when you’re not research­ing and/or writing?
KMH:  I am always writ­ing, so that’s a hard ques­tion. I do a LOT of school vis­its, which I love. I paint, I meet with friends, I work for my friend Chris Crutch­er, I walk my dog and take care of my lizard. I sleep now and then, when time per­mits. : ) Life is crazy busy, but good.
LT:  What are you work­ing on now?
KMH:  I’m fin­ish­ing a book on ani­mal res­cues for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic called TIGER IN TROUBLE. I’m putting togeth­er anoth­er YA anthol­o­gy for Chron­i­cle Books—just got that news yes­ter­day. I am research­ing the his­to­ry of video games for a new book project. And I’m going to write a book on ghosts for Mill­brook. I have two oth­er pro­pos­als under con­sid­er­a­tion at Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, too, but they aren’t firm yet, so I bet­ter not talk about them.
LT:  What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
KMH:  That I don’t have a mean bone in my body, that I live to make life a lit­tle eas­i­er and kinder for the peo­ple I meet. I’d like them to know that I am exact­ly who I say I am, with no need for deceit or ani­mus. Life is too short for cru­el­ty and anger. Like the Bea­t­les said, all we REALLY need is love. I hope my human­i­ty shows, even in my quirky works of non­fic­tion for kids. Kids need love, most of all.
LT: Well, Kel­ly, I have LOVED inter­view­ing you! Thank you so much for so gen­er­ous­ly shar­ing your exper­tise and heart with us, in your books as well as on this blog. 
Stay tuned for an upcom­ing review of Kelly’s new book, ALIEN INVESTIGATION, com­ing from Lern­er Pub­lish­ing on April 1, 2012 (no fooling!).