October 30, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

Thanks for sharing your good news on this blog post.

As promised, I used a random number generator to choose one commenter to receive a signed copy of How to Survive Middle School to donate to a school, library or organization of his choice.

Why did I use the pronoun his in that last sentence?

Because the winner is David LaRochelle!!!

What a coincidence; David has provided the most amazing guest blog post for tomorrow -- Halloween. Wait till you see what he has to share with us!

Thanks David and everyone who shared good news. It was great fun to read everyone's wonderful comments.

October 25, 2010


Do you have good news to share?

Have you heard from an agent? Sold a book? A magazine article? Has your child actually remembered to hang up her wet towel?

Whatever your good news . . . it's time to shout it from the rooftops or, in this case, the blogtops!

Post your good news in the comment section below. Let's read and celebrate each other's good news.

On October 30th, one comment will be selected at random, and that person will receive an autographed copy of HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL . . . to donate to the school, library or organization of his or her choice.

Let the good news roll . . .

October 20, 2010


1. If you know of a library that can use a HUGE collection of children's books or YOU would like to donate a new middle grade book, take a gander at this amazing post from the wonderful folks at From the Mixed Up Files.

2. The fine, funny, thoughtful Libba Bray posted a long letter to a young reader who has big dreams, but struggles because her father has different ideas about her future. Libba's response to this young women put so many things into perspective, including understanding our place in this mixed up world. Libba's wise words can benefit ALL of us. Read the teen's letter and Libba's brilliant response HERE.

3. And now for a few funtastic photos from my Skype visit with some very cool students from Maryland.

Thanks a bazillion to Ms. Etchison for coordinating the visit!!!

October 14, 2010

The Great Hamster Mishap

Sometimes, a young reader responds to one of my books in a delightfully creative way.

Some have baked cakes, others have made a YouTube video and still others have made posters or T-shirts.

But only one person (that I know of) has ever sculpted characters from my novels out of clay.

Elyssa, my friend's daughter and an avid reader, sculpted Hammy the Hamster from How to Survive Middle School. And when I visiting Pennsylvania, she gave it to me.

This clay hamster was so detailed. It had a pink nose, puffy cheeks and a microphone.

But there was one problem.

Hammy had to travel on a plane all the way back to Florida. How to do that? Well, I stuck him in a days-of-the-week pill holder, of course. Hammy resided in the Thursday slot during the ride.

When I got home, I discovered, to my great horror, that something terrible happened to Hammy.


I screamed bloody murder. I dialed 1-1-9. (I'm dyslexic.) I ran for the Krazy Glue.

After countless minutes -- two -- Hammy was back together again.

In fact, he already made a new friend.

I should have known this would have happened. Elyssa knows there have been mishaps in the past when it comes to Sculpey clay. Seniorita Meltypants was our previous disaster.

But all is right in the world now. And little Hammy keeps me company next to Miss Vanessa Meltypants on my desk.

Thank goodness Hammy and his microphone are back in working order. I mean, how else could he possibly star in his very own video? Thanks, Elyssa!

October 11, 2010

Eight Years Ago Today . . .

I woke in a hospital bed, sliced across my lower belly, tubes coming from a variety of places on my body, cuffs wrapped around my legs, squeezing and releasing to keep blood flowing. I drifted in and out of an uncomfortable sleep.

Every time I opened my eyes, Dan was there, beside my bed.

"How did it go?" I murmured, referring to the surgery to remove what my doctor assumed was a cyst on my ovary.

"Fine," he said. "It went fine."

But I could tell by the worried look on his face that it didn't go fine. There was something more.

Finally, about three in the morning, I asked, "What is it? Just tell me."

He said, "Can you listen?"

I knew he meant that the morphine drip kept making me drift in and out of the world's most uncomfortable sleep. "Yes," I said.

Dan held my hand and said, "It's cancer."

The doctor had told him only hours before. The doctor had told Dan when he was alone, waiting to see how the surgery went. We lived too far from family. And our friends were watching our kids. The doctor told him this news, then left, having given Dan a phone number to call, if he had any questions. A phone number that led to an answering machine that was never answered, even though Dan had plenty of questions.

Dan telling me I had cancer did not devastate me.

The next day, when the doctor came in and confirmed this, it also did not devastate me.

Three days later, when I was home and barely able to hobble around and the oncologist called to explain my chemo schedule, I collapsed.

A heaving, sobbing mess, I'd shut myself in the master bathroom so our sons, then in second and fourth grades wouldn't hear. Dan slid the door open. He touched his forehead to mine. We were both crying. "A week of chemo at a time in the hospital," I managed. "Once a month for three months." "Plus another infusion once a week for ten weeks." I heaved and sobbed and repeated, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Dan had watched his mom wither from cancer as I'd watched mine. I did not want him to go through it again.

Dan would have none of that, though. "We'll get through this," he said. "Together."

He went out to get the boys ready for bed. I managed to go back out once they were in bed. But I could barely choke out their bedtime stories, thinking that I wouldn't be able to read to them before bed anymore. I wouldn't get to watch our younger son play baseball. I wouldn't be able to watch them grow up, help them deal with the hard stuff.

I was sure I wouldn't reach my twelfth anniversary.

The chemo was worse than I could have imagined.

At one point, my oncologist said to Dan, "She's getting every side effect in the book. I don't know how we'll get her through this."

He got me through it. Dan got me through it. My girlfriend, who travelled 1,200 miles twice to be with me, got me through it. Both sisters, who flew across the country to be with me, got me through it. The chemo nurses who set up a TV and VCR in my hospital room so our family could continue our Friday tradition of movie night got me through it. (We watched Gremlins, and the nurses brought our boys vanilla ice cream in little plastic cups with wooden spoons.) And my friends. My God! They got me through it with flowers and cards and meals and phone calls and visits and amazing acts of kindness again and again.

The days since that time have not been without challenge.

I watched a dear friend, Cary, pass away from the same thing I had. She was diagnosed four days before I was. Her hair fell out four days before mine did. (Mine fell out in great clumps on Thanksgiving Day.) Cary made a big party with cake and balloons to celebrate our fifth anniversary, but then she got thinner and weaker. And one summer day, I held her hand for the last time, kissed her cheek for the last time.

I often think of the husband and daughter she left behind.

Cary had talked me into going to Camp Mak-a-Dream in Montana. They have a camp session that's just for ovarian cancer patients/survivors. Some of the remarkable, fun, funny, dear, strong, amazing women I have met there have passed on. They left behind children and husbands and sisters.

Oh, there have been challenges in those eight years. My dear father-in-law passed away from cancer. And our dog, Lady, died as well.

But there have been joys.

2,920 sunrises and sunsets. Eight first days of school and last days of school. Eight delicious summer vacations. Apple pies. Pizza pies. Moon pies. Eight Christmases/Chanukahs to celebrate as a family. Books. Hundreds of books read and savored. Elections to vote in. Basketball games to watch our son play in. And school plays to watch our other son act in. Trails to jog and bike ride along. An ocean to dip my feet in. Camping trips, kayak trips and visiting family trips.

I toured Yellowstone National Park with my buddy, Maggie, and her daughter. And the Grand Tetons.

I held hands with Dan during a snowfall as we crossed a bridge to Georgetown, where we ate in a cozy restaurant by a blazing fire.

And after years of hoping and dreaming and working, I connected with the amazing Tina Wexler, an agent at I.C.M. and sold three novels (two of which have already come out), one picture book and am well into writing the next novel.

There have been joys.

But none more important than those two pains in the ass. I had prayed to God: "Just let me be there to help them through the hard stuff." And there has been hard stuff! But look, they are in tenth and twelfth grades now. And I'm still here -- miraculously -- nagging them and feeding them and loving them.

And Dan. We talk about what we'll do when the kids are grown. We make plans for next week and next year. We dream of places we'll travel to, like Ireland. And we're headed toward our twentieth anniversary this coming June.

I'm so happy to be celebrating my eighth year since I heard those terrible words.

Despite the challenges, I'm delighted to spend another fine day on this planet, enjoying the sunsets and sunrises, writing a few pages of a new book, walking with a friend in a park. And seeing the miracle of our children growing into young men. And having another day to tell my husband how grateful I am that he stuck by me through the worst of times and how glad I am to love him now in the best of times.

October 8, 2010

J. K. Rowling and a Dose of Inspiration . . .

1. Did you catch J. K. Rowling's interview on Oprah? So inspiring. Her life was far from easy. She dealt with poverty, grief and clinical depression and still wrote, wrote, wrote. Maybe that's why she wrote, wrote, wrote. And she referred to Arthur Levine as one of her best friends. He's the editor who brought her work to America, and he's such a cool guy that he once dyed his beard PINK when his author, Laini Taylor, was nominated for a National Book Award.

See . . .

(Jim Di Bartolo, Laini Taylor, Arthur A. Levine)

Back to J.K. Rowling. Here's the link with info about her interview with Oprah.

And here's a video of her commencement speech at Harvard. It's so inspiring. She talks about the value of failure. Got to love that!

2. The amazing author and all-around cool person, Mary Hershey, had a wonderful list on her blog, that had me saying, "Yup, me too" and "That's so true." Here's a link to the list. (Did I mention it's funny?)

3. When we write, we hope to make a difference to one reader. Just one. And we feel the same when we speak to a group.

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of speaking to a group of adults about something I've been doing for the past 18 years -- parenting!

Today, I received an e-mail from one of the parents in the audience. Here's a bit from that LOVELY e-mail:

"I am working on a children's book and have never finished it just because, well, if I finish it.... then what? I have a book on my computer, period. I have this delusion that I need to "know people" and "have connections" everyday homemaker moms - except for J.K. Rowling of course, don't get published. So I've never finish it. But . . . you showed me that my thinking is backward. I should be thinking "even J.K. Rowling did it, and so can I!"

I have restarted my work."

Now I know that what I said mattered to at least one person. Thank you, Jill, for letting me know you've chosen to "dust off your dreams."

And thank you, J.K. Rowling for reminding us that "dusting off our dreams" can not only save our lives, but can deeply enrich them.

October 6, 2010

6-1/2 Things to Do While Waiting to Hear Back From Agents and Editors


Several years ago, at a FL SCBWI conference, my dear friend Janeen Mason introduced me to some new guy, who had recently moved to FL.

That "new guy" turned out to be Paul May -- funny, touching writer, techie wizard, nature photographer, family camping buddy, awesome dad to his fabulous daughters, wonderful hubby to Kathie and all around great guy!

Paul R. May (website: http://www.paulrmay.com, blog: http://paulrmay.blogspot.com) writes young adult and middle grade novels, freelance magazine and newspaper articles, parenting articles, and essays about raising kids. Paul's award-winning writing has been published in anthologies, national and international magazines, online parenting sites, educational publications, and e-zines. He has also written dozens of feature articles for several Florida newspapers. Paul lives in St. Augustine, Florida with his wife and two daughters. He loves stomping around in the Florida swamps and photographing wildlife.

And now, here are Paul's 6-1/2 Things to Do While Waiting to Hear Back from Agents and Editors . . .

  1. Click Send/Receive in your email over and over and over again. Click it once more just to be sure.
  2. Double check to make sure your house phone has a dial tone and that your cell phone has signal bars. Check your voicemail to be sure no one has called in the last ten minutes.
  3. Wear out the grass between your front door and the mail box. Try to wait at least a full minute to run outside after the mail has been delivered. Wave at the friendly postal delivery person when she gives you a strange look. Every day.
  4. When you go out to get the mail, pray that one of your self-addressed stamped envelopes will be in the box, even though you know you really don’t want to see one of your self-addressed stamped envelopes in the box.
  5. Replace the carpet because of the circular hole you created while pacing in circles around the phone.
  6. Google. Google like crazy. Google the editor who has your manuscript. Google the writers with whom the editor has worked. Google interviews about the editor. Google the editor’s company history. Google pictures of agents and editors so you can envision them reading your work. Google until you find out the editor’s kid’s babysitter’s high school science project topics.

6 ½. If none of the above really works out for you, consider leaving all that submission stuff alone once it’s out there. Start a new writing project. Pour all that manic-crazy-waiting energy into new scenes and wonderful characters. Laugh about your frustrations with other writers in the trenches. Have a new manuscript well underway when you finally get some good news!


Thanks, Paul, for sharing your wit and wisdom!

October 4, 2010

Mapping the Middle Event

Saturday, I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the Mapping the Middle: A Parent's Guide to All Things Tween event in Martin County, FL.

What a terrific event!

After the keynote -- 6-1/2 WAYS TO SURVIVE PARENTING A MIDDLE SCHOOLER -- I moderated a panel of experts, including a group of savvy, sincere teens . . .

There were workshops about brain development, substance abuse, bullying and connecting and communicating with positive behavior.

They had vendors, like the amazing Jenn Salas from the Blake Library in Stuart, whom I met when she invited me to participate in their first Kidsmania event.

There was food . . .

Hubby helped during the entire event -- selling books, providing support and most important, making sure I had an ample supply of garlic bagels slathered with cream cheese.

My favorite part was after I finished speaking and people came up and shared such meaningful bits of their lives. Thank you.

And thank you to Darcy, Jeff, Tykes and Teens, the Parent Action Committee and everyone who worked so hard to put together such a wonderful event for parents in the community!

October 1, 2010

First School Visit . . . with a Twist

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of speaking to the 6th grade students at Independence Middle School -- my first school visit of the year.

Go, Eagles!

This is what the cafetorium looked like before 400 students and teachers streamed in . . .

What a great group of kids! After listening to my talk, "6-1/2 Ways to Survive and Thrive in Middle School," they all turned to our son, Jake, who was sitting in the back row. And because it was his 16th birthday, 400 exuberant voices sang "Happy Birthday." It was a blast!

That evening, the amazing Lisa Petroccia, media specialist (and a character in my novel), arranged for me to sign books at Barnes and Noble in conjunction with the school's book fair.

It was wonderful. The choir sang, students played clarinet, teachers arrived as did the principal, Ms. Bonino (also a character in my novel). And lots of friends stopped by, too. (Hey, Deborah!)

The best part was having a chance to chat with the kids while I signed books. And they got to meet Hammy the Hamster and shake his paw. (Hammy is a stuffed toy.) It was a fabulous event!

Then my favorite guys in the whole world came to pick me up.

(Jake, pretending to be me, Dan and Andrew)

We took Jake out for a late celebratory dinner at the Melting Pot. I mean, you only turn 16 once. And what better way to celebrate than with 400 6th graders singing to you, um, I mean with a plate of desserts to dip into warm chocolate?

Love you, Bud!

And now, for the obligatory cute dog photo . . .

Benji (aka Butthead)