Monday, November 18, 2019

Why Barbara Dee's MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU should be required reading

I love middle grade novels that empower their readers.

And Barbara Dee's latest novel, MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU does exactly that.

The story revolves around seventh-grader Mila, who suddenly finds herself receiving unwanted attention from the boys in her class.

Their comments and inappropriate touching mortify Mila.

As does the lack of support from some of her friends, who accuse her of overreacting. Grin and bear it. It's just flirting.

As soon as I read the blurb for this book months ago, I knew I had to read it.

In this #metoo era, I hoped someone would write something accessible for young people on the subject, and Barbara Dee has done just that.

Even better, she perfectly captures all aspects of the situation, including Mila's reluctance to lodge a complaint.

And she doesn't demonize the boys who are harassing Mila, making it clear that they, too, are victims of the toxic masculinity that encourages men to look at women as people who can be dominated.

These are complex issues, and Dee addresses them with sensitivity and nuance. Even better, Mila's path to empowerment feels realistic and messy and true.

My hope is that every middle school will buy this book.

It needs to be required reading for both students and teachers and hopefully, a lot of parents.

The way things change in society is by shining a light on an issue. Hopefully, when we know better, we do better.

And stories are a powerful light shining tool, especially when they are as compellingly and beautifully executed as MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU.

This is a five star book with a five+ star bonus for being a change maker!

A must read!

For more information about Barbara and to access her reading guide, click HERE.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Forget Family...Which MG Characters Would You Invite To Your Holiday Feast?


Headless turkeys, ill-fitting pants, family estrangement due to polarized political viewpoints and, er…feelings of gratitude all point to the lard-laden holiday of Thanksgiving which will soon be upon us here in the States.

Living hundreds of miles from our nearest relatives has meant that my family is either traveling on some of the busiest, craziest, kerfuffliest days of the year with a 97.5% percent change of getting stranded in an airport overnight…OR opting to spend a quiet day of thanks hunkered down at home with our small crew of six.

We lean towards hunkering. 

After years of celebrating with our large, extended family, we’ve found the positive side of these lonely-ish holiday observances is the lack of bodily injury and/or need for noise cancelling headphones. On the downside, we miss the energy and camaraderie of these domestic get-togethers, as well as the lively and eclectic discussions that only seem to occur when people are forced together in a small space with large quantities of food, alcohol and fire code violations at hand.

Though my family will once again be on our own this year, I thought it would be fun to conjure a Thanksgiving gathering of all my favorite middle grade book characters in the absence of my blood-related characters. I mean, who needs real live people when you can live in a fictitious world created solely in the mind of another writer’s outrageously warped imagination!* See? Fun! (And not crazy at all!) 

So, please visualize the toasty glow of a fire in the hearth, the smell of rosemary and thyme wafting from the oven, and the repeated BANG!!! of semi-permanent disfiguring spells breaking through the silence as you ponder my Thanksgiving Day (dream) guest list (table for 10):

  • Matthew Cuthbert sits at the head of the table next to a trough of brown sugar, while attempting to transfer his calm, loving energy to the motley bunch surrounding him. (Spoiler: He will fail. And now I'm sobbing, because...Matthew!!!
  • Harry Potter is sitting closest to the cupboard looking alternatingly thoughtful and bemused, while practicing his Expelliarmus spell on...
  • Percy Jackson who continuously siphons water from the kitchen sink to both douse Harry in retaliation AND refresh the water goblets while...
  • Farley Drexel (Fudge) Hatcher whimpers next to Percy, because he needs some Pepto Bismol after the turtle he ate this morning, but...
  • Stanley Yelnats is chastising Fudge for being a wimp, teasing, "Eat it or wear it!" because the soggy old onions Stanley ate were so, so much worse and--BAM BAM BUM...
  • Steven Alper cuts Stanley off from his sorry-for-himself tirade by playing a righteous drum solo on the gravy boat, while...
  • Meg Murry mulls over the stupidity of boys and her frizzy hair as she watches...
  • Sunny Baudelaire gnaw on the leg of the mahogany table in vegan protest of the soul-killing meal, while
  • Hermione Granger gives a speech on the "Rights of House Elves" (as they lovingly labor over the Thanksgiving Feast) next to...
  • Raina who is adjusting her headgear, so she can actually fit something bigger than a cranberry into her mouth, and...
  • I...have been relegated to the kiddie card table in the sub-zero front entryway.

Ahh...can't you just feel the passive-aggressive tension colliding in the air above stomachs that have been stuffed to five times their capacity?! In other words, the perfect Thanksgiving feast. 


Friday, November 8, 2019

Fighting Kittens and Other Titles

As I sit in my eighth grade daughter's room, watching our two newest rescue kittens race around and play, I'm struck by the many ways I can describe their behavior. But more importantly, for this post, I'm going to use it to illustrate a few points about titles.

Coupled with cover art, titles are a hook. Unless the shopper goes to the store specifically looking for your book, they'll probably be browsing titles. You want that shopper to read your title and pick up your book. Duh. Now, publishers will generally decide your title for you, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it at all. I think some authors don't give enough thought to their titles in their book's early manuscript form.

I like my manuscript (and chapter) titles to do several things for me.

1. Raise questions. Are the kittens fighting each other? Is the MC fighting kittens? How serious is the fight? What's at stake? Why are they fighting? You see, if I can engage the reader with my title, they'll keep reading. (I hope.)

2. I like immediate conflict. Fight is an action word which insinuates conflict. That seems to me to be a pretty good reason to open the book. Action = pacing in many regards. Keep it moving, especially for MG readers.

3. Word order is important. That's true no matter what you're writing. But if you're crafting a title, you need to pick these words very carefully. What if I'd titled this blog post, Kittens Fighting? That might evoke a different visual for the reader than the title Fighting Kittens. Right? Maybe that's not as interesting as Fighting Kittens.

4. Market with your title. No matter the word order in my title, I want my title to have a certain click-baity feel about it. Who doesn't love kittens, right? And what if they're fighting? OMG! I have to check that out! (Like it or not, that's the way marketing often works these days.)

5. Elements of truth are necessary. I prefer my titles of chapters and books to contain truth in order that the reader doesn't feel cheated. Though these kittens are mostly play-fighting, they are having their serious conflicts. At least six times already they've appeared ready to kill each other. They haven't though, so calm down. As soon as it gets really intense, one kitten runs away and hides under the bed, or in one of the cardboard boxes my daughter carefully set up. But so far, though they are really just play-fighting. No blood has been drawn.

(If I'd titled this blog post TITLES, you might not have clicked our link and visited our blog, because, let's face it, TITLES is so...ho-hum. You'd have passed right on by, and my co-bloggers and I would not have had the chance to connect with you. That would have been sad.)

Here's a list of some kidlit titles that have what I'm talking about.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
My Seventh Grade Life in Tights
The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Whether I'm creating a title for a manuscript or chapter, writing the title first helps me to stay on track with the story. It helps me prioritize certain elements of the following section - which helps me as a writer. Further, the right title with the right cover art will surely elevate a book's chance of readership. And that helps me as an author! Good luck with your titles!


Wednesday, November 6, 2019


I'm thrilled to share a recent interview I did with author Marianne Schnall, whose new book, DARE TO BE YOU: INSPIRATIONAL ADVICE FOR GIRLS, was published on October 22nd by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

The book is filled with advice on eighteen topics, including Believe in Yourself, Use Your Voice, and You Have the Power to Enact Change, taken from interviews Schnall has conducted over the years with some of the most influential and inspirational women of our times such as Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall, Kerry Washington, Oprah, Loung Ung, Melissa Etheridge and many more.

Schnall is an award-winning writer and journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of media sources and is also the founder of, a leading women's website and nonprofit organization, and, a media and event platform that engages women everywhere to advance in all levels of leadership and to take action.

I read this book in one sitting and was totally blown away by the content. While this book is aimed at inspiring girls, it also inspired me, and I plan to pass this along to many women in my life! I can see this being a useful tool to use in the classroom to launch wonderful conversations with both girls and boys.

Even better, Marianne has given us a copy to giveaway!

The Interview:

As I read this book, I was reminded again and again of the power of hearing similar messages delivered in slightly different ways. Did you decide from the very beginning that there needed to be a certain number of quotes per chapter, recognizing that some quotes resonate differently with different individuals?

Yes, I knew that different types of responses would resonate differently with readers, and also that it would be helpful and illuminating to hear about these same themes through a variety of lens and perspectives, to realize how many of these experiences and themes are universal. And while I realized that there are many famous names quoted they may have heard of already, there are also some new names of influential figures they could learn about.

I was so happy that your “Advice givers” spanned all races, ages, careers, education and life backgrounds. Did you consciously push for that, or did it simply happen organically?

Absolutely – it was a little bit of both - that diversity is something that I have always been conscious of in who I have reached out to interview over the years, and it was important for that diversity to be reflected in the perspectives that were included in the book. I wanted people of all backgrounds to find aspects of themselves they could relate to – and others they could learn from – through the multitude of voices represented in the book.

In the introduction you say “Ultimately, my hope is that this book will embolden you with the confidence and courage to be your full, unapologetic, fierce self”. I was so struck by this because so many women have been raised to apologize for their opinions, their brains and their beauty. Do you envision this book as a tool to not only inspire individual girls, but to be used as a tool to get conversations going at homes, at schools?

Absolutely! We need to not only instill these empowering messages in girls themselves, but in the many adults and institutions in girls’ lives to echo and reinforce them.  Our culture needs a course-correct since there are so many disempowering messages still directed at girls through limiting stereotypes and harmful pressures that are overtly and subliminally perpetuated by society and the media. And right now we need girls to find their voice, come into their power, see themselves as leaders, pursue their passions and dreams and contribute their visions, solutions and ideas to the world – now more than ever! Girls are a force that can transform our world – but we have to give them the encouragement and support to do so.

The eighteen chapters cover subjects that taken together, would support and create a very happy and fulfilling life, and a much happier planet. How easy was it to categorize the advice and quotes?

Going through the many hundreds of interviews was certainly not easy, but there were so many common themes that naturally emerged from my interviews as ones that were important to underscore. Whether on learning to love yourself as you are, guidance on overcoming hard times, believing in your dreams, or how you can use your voice to create change in the world  – the women who I had interviewed all had inspiring and helpful wisdom and guidance to share on these topics from their own journeys.

How would you suggest parents, teachers, and librarians use this book?

I would suggest that they first read it themselves, to see what stood out to them and what they feel inspired to impart to the girls in their lives. Then give the book to girls! (and boys too, since I believe boys can benefit from reading this book and may transform how they think about girls and women, or even about the harmful gender stereotypes that impact men and boys too).  I think having honest conversations around the themes in this book, either just with girls or with boys present too – what resonated with them, what further support they need or questions they have, what we can do in our society to further support girls (and all people) to embrace their true selves and fulfill their potential, would all be very interesting, important and fruitful for all involved! 

Thank you so much Marianne Schnall!!! 

Win a copy of the book!

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Metrics Nerd Looks at NaNoWriMo

50K words in a month. That’s what NaNoWriMo tells us is a novel, that we can hammer out in November,
on a sugar high from our kids’ Halloween candy before it spoils. 

A chronic overwriter of a genre of books that skew shorter (Middle Grade, obviously) in a sub-genre that
skews long, I’m currently at 71.6K in my WIP/R&R. It’s probably pushing the limit, but that’s what I needed
to tell the story.

And yes, I signed up for NaNo, more for the public accountability and socializing with my online friends. 

That said, I’m O V E R word count as the sole metric for writing. 

Nerd Alert: I’m a management consultant/industrial engineer by trade.  That means the skills of my misspent
youth involved 80 hours a week studying and quantifying large organizations’ business processes and
examining/testing ways for them to reduce money and time spent to get the job done.

Like The Bobs from Office Space, except I’m better-looking. I’m also pretty sure most of my coworkers
have wondered at one point what planet I’m actually from. Oh well. 

Regardless, I hate bad metrics.  And any One Size Fits All metric across an entire operation is a bad one.
It’s a novel, not a pair of earrings. 

Word Count tries to be a One Size Fits All metric. It’s a great metric for a first draft. That’s really about it. 

My goals for November include: 

Finish the rest of the “Rewrite” part of the R&R
Metric: This is done when the story is told. I estimate another 5K words

Edit the document (Typos, dropped threads, missing plants… I have an ever-growing to-do checklist.
Metric: This is done when I’ve gone through all the pages, identified and made the edits. I estimate 300 pages.

Send the MS back out into the world
Metric: This is done… when the email is sent. 

Get through Thanksgiving alive (Local relatives are so accepting and kind that my computer will be joining me.)
Metric: Estimated five anecdotes about friends' cousins' hairdressers who self-published 2K-word
picture books in two weeks.

There are of course other operational processes (building my writer platform) such as being a Cybils panelist,
posting the 900 reviews in my WordPress drafts box, etc.  That’s another story for another day.

The elephant in the room (pink, winged, and shoots glitter out of its trunk if it’s in in one of my stories)
is that not all words written are created equal.  It’s OK for your first draft to be crap. Shannon Hale said
so, albeit less crassly (and thank you @jessiehgmetzger for the pretty graphic):

Above all, remember that Twitter humblebrag of 5K words written in a day (OK, I’ve done that but not regularly)
and stories of novels being written on a 3-day caffeine-or-worse bender held up like they’re the norm,
are only telling part of the story. 

“I spent years busting my butt” is just not a popular narrative in the writing community. We’re writers: We
know mundane and tedious will get you panned in a crit group. Same rule applies to telling your online
success story.  Set yourself apart from the mere mortal riffraff or perish, etc.

But, getting your crappy first draft down on paper is the first step, and having a group cheer you on as
your word count builds is a great way to keep yourself accountable. 

Just remember this is one piece of the puzzle. 

Oh, and I’m on NaNo if anyone wants to find me. In fact, please do so it looks like I do have friends.

Happy writing!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Just Write! Trust me, it works.

Writing a story is like taking a thousand pictures then choosing the best to display. You have to know what to focus on, what to highlight, and what order to place the pictures in to create the strongest emotional response. You also need to be willing to throw some pictures away.

Sometimes when we sit down to write, we feel like we have to get it perfect the first time. We think we must know exactly what we’re doing and how we’re going to get where we want the story to go. But that’s not how stories happen in fiction or in real life. It’s more like throwing the words on the page. There will be plenty of time to put them in the right order later.

Recently my daughter asked for my help on some essays she was working on. She felt frozen, staring at her laptop, wanting to finish before she’d actually started. I told her to just start writing. “But Mom, I don’t have time to write about something that might not end up in the essay. I just don’t have time!” 

While this may feel true, this is not how writing works. Sure, an outline and purposeful direction can help save time. But ultimately, you just need to write. Get the words on the page. Then edit in transitions, meaningful metaphors, and relevant plot details (or supporting facts, in the case of essays). And be willing to throw out your darlings. No, I don’t mean your sweet children, but your favorite turns of phrase or scenes that you’ve discovered don’t actually fit in that story. I save mine in a file linked to my current work-in-progress, just in case I discover I need them again.

The thing is, writing and editing activate different parts of your brain. Writing is creative. Editing is more analytical, though admittedly with a creative twist. Make use of this fact. Avoid constantly switching back and forth between writing and editing. You actually end up saving time if you can get into that writing zone without worrying about perfection. This can help you avoid the dreaded writer’s block, or fear of the blank page. Just write. You’ll be glad you did. Then polish it up later. That’s when the real fun begins!

Happy writing!