New Website Look

girl and treeI spent far too long making a new header illustration for my site. I was aiming for a more flexible design that works for both middle grade and picture book writing. The color palette was inspired by my writer friend Colby Marshall. Colby has color-grapheme synthesia, like the main character of her much-praised new thriller Color Blind. While Dr. Jenna Ramey is a forensic psychiatrist who uses her unique way of interpreting the world to help solve crimes, Colby was kind enough to answer me when I demanded to know what color I am. She said periwinkle, and that color dominated this twilight design.

Note that the trees in the design are still American beeches — the same kind of tree that stars in Deadwood, although these are a little more at peace. Please let me know what you think.


    World Building in 1/12 Scale

    I spent the day cleaning the house. This one:

    Which is the same as this one:
    That’s me in the heart-shaped deely-boppers, behind my little sister. It was my 13th birthday, and that was my new dollhouse. Dollhouses weren’t the coolest thing in eighth grade, but that didn’t stop me. I liked to build worlds, even if I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.

      Champion Tree Hunting

      Novice Champion Tree Hunting

      Earlier this month I visited Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA, and acquired a new hobby. I was with my kids so I spent nearly as much time in the gift shop as in the fabulous treehouses, and I picked up a copy of Big Trees of Pennsylvania. Tyler Arboretum is home to quit a few Champion Trees — the largest of their kind in Pennsylvania, including one of the largest PA trees of any kind — a mammoth tulip poplar (Liriondendron tulipifera) 133 feet tall.

      I missed that tree while climbing Tyler’s gorgeous treehouses and coaxing my youngest daughter to keep walking, but now I’m planning to visit and document more of Pennsylvania’s biggest trees, as tracked by 

      What makes a Champion Tree? Trees are tracked by species and accrue points as follows:

      Trunk circumference: Measured 4.5 feed about the ground level, one point accorded per inch.

      Height: One point per foot, measured with a clinometer, hand level, or range finder.

      Crown spread: 1/4 point per foot of the average between the smallest and widest crown spread.

      It’s hard to recognize a Champion just by looking because they are species-specific. The largest tree in Pennsylvania overall is a Mercersburg American Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) with a whopping 529 points, but the largest crabapple is only 84. So I’m not going to be identifying them, unless I get extremely lucky, but looking at them in their environment.

      My daughter at the State Champion Red Oak at Haverford College

      Visit my tree blog, for:

      Champion trees »

      Arborglyphs »

      Trees that look like people »


        I Am Not My Books

        Sometimes both writers and readers forget that they and their books are not one and the same.

        Proof that I am not my books: We are often seen at the same place at the same time.

        I put a lot of myself into the books I write. The characters come out of my head — the protagonists, antagonists, comic relief, parents good and bad, the passerby on the street who only has one line. But they are not me.

        The dialogue comes from my head — philosophizing, wisecracking, both sides of an argument. But it’s not what I would say.

        The writing, rewriting, querying, submission, editing, and marketing of a book takes a lot of time, emotion, and thought. There is a lot of my life and myself in my books. I have a creative vision, and it comes out in my books. But they are not me.

        Read the whole post on Project Mayhem >>


          Nothing Just Happen to Be

          This post appeared as part of Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA, a blog founded by YA authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon in 2011 to support diverse literature.

          Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery, takes place in a diverse town, like communities I based it on and where I’ve always lived. Culture is not central to the story, which is about two seventh graders who must lift a curse on a tree to save their town from growing disaster, but I wanted to include diverse characters to reflect the reality I pictured.

          Still, I was intimidated about writing someone from another culture, so I decided to hedge a little. When I began the novel, the main character of Martin had a Puerto Rican dad but was raised by his white mother and grandmother. I thought if he was raised in my own culture, I had the right to write him.

          The story is not about the ethnic background, and it’s been said that Martin “just happens to be” Puerto Rican. But it didn’t just happen to him, just as my other main character, Hannah, doesn’t “just happen to be” white. I decided that these would be the characters, and I grew their voices, personalities, and backgrounds. It didn’t just happen.

          Read the full post on Diversity in YA >>


            Silver Moonbeam award

            When I was a kid, I won a lot of awards. Now that I’m a grownup, I’ve found that trophies don’t get handed out just for showing up. Being honored for work is a feeling I nearly forgot. Thus this award for Deadwood means a lot — the silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Pre-teen Fiction – Mystery. The Moonbeams are given by the Jenkins Group and Independent Publisher, recognizing books from smaller publishers. My publisher, Spencer Hill Press, made a great showing this year — great company to be in.

            Here’s the full list of winners >>


              Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA

              It’s Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA, and I’ll be posting there with some amazing authors, like Jacqueline Woodson, Sarwat Chadda, Crystal Chan, Coe Booth, Sharon Flake, Varsha Bajaj, and more! Thanks to Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for inviting me to participate.

              The posts

              Leaving Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín
              Our Diversity, Our Connectedness by Crystal Chan
              My Multicolored Heroes by Sarwat Chadda
              Inspiration from Unexpected Places by Sharon Flake
              Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
              Getting Understanding by Jacqueline Woodson
              Growing Grayson by Ami Polonsky

              Enter now to win books! >>



                What Writing Picture Books Taught Me About Novels

                I am a middle-grade writer first, but not only.

                I read so many picture books when my children were young that I wanted to write one. Finally an idea hit me, and the story flowed out in a sitting. But that was the beginning — that story required many, many more sittings, drafts, and subsequent stories that improved on my first effort. As simple as a picture book manuscript looks, it’s hard to write one.

                Switching gears between middle grade and picture books creates challenges, but it has its lessons. Here’s what I’ve taken into my middle-grade fiction from my efforts to write for younger readers.

                Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>


                  Review from Foreword Magazine

                  Super pleased by a new review for Deadwood from Foreword Magazine! Here’s one of my favorite parts (it’s but hard to choose!):

                  “…these two strong characters — both of them sporty and clever, with diverse backgrounds — can hold their own. Short chapters amp up the pace and hold attention, bolstering the story’s wild suspense.”

                  Foreword review DEADWOOD