Mainely Writing; All Fun!

Aaahhh….Maine in June. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve just returned from Mainely Writing, an annual week-long gathering of writers at a lovely house on the shore of Penobscot Bay in Maine. We hold daily writing workshops, where we share our writing, give and receive feedback, and talk about how we can create great stories for kids. Each year we invite a noted author to facilitate our workshop. This year’s Mainely Writing was led by the wonderful Kathleen Duey, author of Skin Hunger and many other books.

Kathleen led us through wonderful discussions of our current manuscripts, and offered tips and techniques for improving our storytelling.

But don’t think that Mainely Writing is all work and no play! Besides the writing, we had time for talking, walking, group games, catered meals at the house, and even a little singing. Add in some sightseeing and shopping in nearby Belfast and fresh seafood in local eateries, and you have an adventure that is both exciting and relaxing.

It’s sad to say goodbye at the end of the week, but we all leave refreshed, renewed, and ready to return to our writing.

Here’s a gallery of photos to convey the mood and flavor of Mainely Writing:

Happy New Year, and Happy Birthday, Kansas!

Kansas Day is coming soon–January 29. It commemorates the day that Kansas gained admission as a state on that date in 1861.

Here’s how it happened:

The Kansas bill, which would make Kansas a state had been in Congress for some time, and the House of Representatives had already passed it when it came to the floor of the Senate. Because the proposed constitution for this new state declared that Kansas would be a state without slavery, the Senators from the southern states would not approve it. Abraham Lincoln had recently been elected president, but he had not yet taken office. Everyone knew that Lincoln opposed slavery, and some southern states were threatening to secede (withdraw) from the United States. On January 21, 1861, the senators from Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi announced their states’ secession and left the Senate. When the vote on the Kansas Bill was called, it passed 36-16. A week later, the bill was again passed in the House of Representatives, and President Buchanan signed it on January 29, 1861.

If you’d like to sing a Happy Birthday song for Kansas, you might try this one. The words are from a poem written called “The Kansas Emigrants” by John Greenleaf Whittier. Early residents of Kansas sang it to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, the song traditionally sung at New Year’s celebrations. Here is the first stanza of Whittier’s poem, and the chorus that was usually sung with it.

We cross the prairie as of old

The pilgrims crossed the seas,

To make the West, as they the East,

The homestead of the free!

The homestead of the free, my boys,

The homestead of the free.

To make the West, as they the East,

The homestead of the free!

Happy Kansas Day!


NaNoWriMo? Well…no…

After years of considering it, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November. NaNoWriMo is an enormous challenge for most writers: 50,000 words in thirty days; an average of 1,666 per day. Those who complete the challenge can upload their text and collect a coveted “NaNoWriMo WINNER” certificate.

I went into the month with great optimism. I had a novel I’d been working on for a while, and this seemed like a great time to set a goal to finish it. I sketched out a rough outline. I let others know my plan. I went to a local library for a meeting of like-minded writers. I worked really hard. I let the housework go. I stayed up late at night.

But alas, I did not write 50,000 words during the month of November. I did not finish my novel-in-progress. I did not achieve “winner” status. I could make a list of my reasons/excuses for not reaching the 50,000 word goal, but what’s the point of that, really? Instead of focusing on my failure, I prefer to think of all I accomplished in that month:

  • I more than doubled the total word count of the novel
  • I did lots of brainstorming and finally discovered the central problem my main character must solve
  • I kept persevering, even long after I knew I would not achieve winner status
  • I learned a lot about myself as a writer, including the revelation that “inspiration” comes when I am actively engaged in the writing, not before

My actual word count at the end of the month was just over 25,000. That translates to about a hundred pages that I added to the novel. I’m calling that a “Half NaNo,” and I’m really quite proud of it.

So what now? We’re headed into a new year, and this is traditionally a time when many people make new goals. As a result of my work on NaNoWriMo, I think I’ve even figured out how this book will end. I’m eager to set a new goal and power through to the end of it. I think I can do it in a month.

Anyone out there want to join me for JanNoWriMo?

On the road with Kanzas

It has been a fun and busy summer of visits to historical groups and sites to talk about A Voice for Kanzas and the history behind the story. In June, I visited the Liberty, MO Silver Center to talk about “Shady Characters of Kansas Territory.” We had a lively discussion that day, and an invitation to visit a different group in the future.

Next, I went to the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park. There I spent some time in Vic’s General Store, signing books, showing the book trailer, and talking with kids and their parents.

On August 11, I spoke to the Westport Historical Society at the Westport Library in Kansas City, MO. A lively group of history enthusiasts turned out that day to hear about the historical research behind A Voice for Kanzas.

I visited the Watkins Community Museum in Lawrence, KS on August 18 as part of their Civil War on the Western Frontier program that weekend. We talked about life in Lawrence in the early territorial days.

Now that school is back in session, I’m scheduling visits to area libraries, schools, and other groups. If you’d like me to visit your class, library, book club, or home school group, see my “Appearances” page for more information.


Back to School

When is “back to school” more like a stimulating vacation with old friends and great books? When it’s the summer residency at Hamline University’s MFAC program in St. Paul, MN. I came back to Hamline for alumni weekend, but I stayed on to soak up lectures by heavy-hitters in children’s literature like Gary Schmidt, Swati Avasthi, Lara Ruby, Marilyn Nelson, and many more. I’ve enjoyed some morning runs around the beautiful campus, some great writing time, and conversations with old friends and new.

The Hamline program breathed new life into my writing, and new writing into my life. If you’d like to learn more about writing for kids and young adults, learn more about the Hamline program at  And join us for a Back to School experience you’ll love!

Pardon the Interruption!

First off, I need to apologize for my absence from the blog world.

Life happens. And it happens to writers, too. There I was, plugging along on a five-mile run, when out of the blue the sidewalk jumped up and slammed into me. Or something like that. Apparently, being a runner and also a klutz isn’t a great combination.

Here is my oh-so-attractive ZOMBIE HAND:

photo of bruised hand Although I hit that sidewalk with several of my body parts (shoulder, knee, cheekbone), my right hand took the worst of the impact. My broken pinkie and ring fingers are now safely nestled in a beautiful hard plastic splint where they will remain for another four weeks.

Yeah, that’s right, it’s my writing hand.

Now (more than) a few of my non-running friends have said “See? I knew running was bad for your health!” Does that mean I’ll be giving up running? No way. In fact, I’ve already run several times since the accident. I won’t be doing any pull-ups or burpees for a while, but I can still run. Just watch me.

My typing ability has taken a major hit, though. With the splint on, I make twice as many errors as usual, so I spend most of my time correcting mistakes. My left hand does not handle a mouse well, so I’m usually clicking in all the wrong places. And holding a pen? Not so easy. Luckily, I do have two good fingers and a thumb, but it’s pretty darned awkward to hold a pen and write. Does that mean I’ll give up writing? No way. Yeah, it takes longer, but I can’t give up writing any more than I can give up breathing. Just watch me.


Reaching Readers

River Read 2012 was a great success! Over 500 students from the Park Hill School District attended. It was great to see this event return to Park University as a way to encourage students to read more and to interact with local authors.

I enjoyed talking with the students and telling them more about the history research behind A Voice for Kanzas. It’s always fun for me to be able to connect with young readers.

I have several upcoming appearances on my calendar, but most are for adult groups. I’m eager to do more school and library visits for kids! If you’d like a classroom, library, or youth group author visit, please see my “Appearances” page for more information.

3-2-1 Launch!

A Voice for Kanzas was officially launched on 2/25/2012! A nice crowd turned out for the event, and a fair number of books went out into the world that day. Many thanks to Diane and Jim Langdon, Steve and Diane Holthaus, and Teresa and Jeff Amis for their help. Click on the gallery below to see some pictures of the event, including the beautiful cake!


March 7 is World Read Aloud Day!

Help celebrate World Read Aloud Day by sharing a book with a child.

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I’ll be using SKYPE to share some passages from A Voice for Kanzas with Ms. Mozer’s class in Greenwich, Connecticut! I’ll read a little, then have some time for the students to ask questions and visit with me. I think it will be a great way to celebrate!

How will you celebrate the day?

It’s a book birthday!

This is it: The official release day of A Voice for Kanzas! The book launch party last Saturday was fun (photos forthcoming), but it’s exciting to finally reach the day I’ve been waiting for all these months.

I’m excited to finally be able to celebrate the release of my book, and I’m thrilled that Cynthia Leitich Smth has featured me and the book on her wonderful blog, Cynsations. Here is a link to my interview there! I’ve already received some congratulations messages from friends who have seen it. I hope you will check it out, too.