Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kansas SCBWI Workshop

I’m late in posting this, but this Saturday the Kansas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will present a writing workshop led by the fabulous and award-winning children’s writer Jane Kurtz:

Story Shape-Up: A Novel Writer’s Workout
November 10, 2007
9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (with a break for lunch)
Carlsen Center
Room 124
Johnson County Community College
Overland Park, Kansas

$25.00 SCBWI members
$30.00 nonmembers
Please pre-register by November 7th

More information and a registration form is available on the Kansas SCBWI website: http://www.kansas-scbwi.org/.

Tonganoxie Library

Tonight I’ll be speaking at the Tonganoxie Public Library (my hometown library, which I love to pieces; they just got new comfy, stylish furniture, so I love taking my laptop there to work even more than I did before). Here’s the scoop:

Tonganoxie Library Teen (TLT) Meeting
5:30 p.m.
November 6, 2007
Tonganoxie Public Library
Tonganoxie, Kansas

If you’re a TLT or just live close and want to drop by, I’d love to see you there!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cool Beans

Hey, I just found out that Airball is on the list for Washington’s Sasquatch Award. How exciting. Here’s the complete list:

Whittington by Alan Armstrong
The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer
The Misadventure of Maude Marche by Audrey Couloumbis
Chicken Boy by Frances O’Roark Dowell
The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Sid Fleischman
Stumptown Kid by Carol Gorman
Owen Foote, Mighty Scientist by Stephanie Greene
Airball: My Life in Briefs by Lisa Harkrader
Defiance by Valerie Hobbs
The Ghost’s Grave by Pet Kehret
Abby Takes a Stand by Patricia McKissack

Wow. What a list. I’m honored to be in the company of such great authors and terrific books.

For more information about the Sasquatch Award, click here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


By now everyone knows how much I love the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, the mystery convention held each fall in Manhattan, Kansas. I just got an email from the convention organizers that next year’s dates and main speakers have been chosen:

October 31–November 2, 2008
Holiday Inn at the Campus
Manhattan, Kansas
Guest of Honor: JoAnna Carl (aka Eve Sandstrom)
Toastmaster: Joel Goldman

These are just the first details the committee has planned. They’re working on the cost, program, and registration form now, and as soon as I know more, I’ll let you know. But I’ve already told them to count me in. What could be more fun than spending Halloween at a mystery convention?

Friday, October 12, 2007


October is a very big month for me, and this next week will be a very big week. I’ll be participating in four events, beginning tomorrow morning at my very own hometown library:

Tonganoxie Public Library
Tonganoxie, Kansas
10:00 a.m.
October 13, 2007

River City Reading Festival
Festival hours: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
My book signing time: 11:00 a.m. to noon
October 14, 2007
Lawrence Arts Center
940 New Hampshire
Lawrence, Kansas

This celebration of reading will bring together of authors and performers, most of whom have strong connections to Kansas, including keynote speaker Jim Lehrer, host and executive editor of The NewsHour on PBS, who was born in Wichita, and Dense Low-Weso, who will be inaugurated as Kansas Poet Laureate in June.

14th Annual Literature Festival
October 16, 2007
Kansas Memorial Union
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

I’m honored to have been asked to participate in this festival, and doubly honored that I’ll be sharing the day with Heartland Award winner Sharon Draper. I’ll be speaking in the morning and will be doing a Q&A session in the afternoon. This festival is organized each year by The Writing Conference.

Louisburg Library
4:00 p.m.
October 18, 2007
Louisburg, Kansas

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I’m really big on setting. I don’t like to go on for paragraph after paragraph describing a setting, but I do like to paint the telling details that will ground the characters and action in a place. And one of my favorite ways to get the setting right is to actually be in that setting as I’m writing about it.

For Airball, I wrote in the bleachers during my son’s basketball practice and at my smalltown diner during lunch. Recently I began writing a scene set in a university’s student union. Now, I’ve been to college. And I still visit the union at KU from time to time (we have to buy our Jayhawk apparel somewhere, plus they have a really terrific bookstore and coffee shop). But as I tried to write this scene, I had a hard time coming up with those details that would bring the setting alive. So I packed up my laptop and drove over to Lawrence (I’m lucky I only live 20 minutes away), bought a latte and settled in among the students in the union to write.

And wow, was I glad I did. Not only was I able to capture a setting that had been eluding me at home, one element of that setting—the flatscreen TVs mounted high on the walls—gave me a great idea for some action in a scene that could have been too introspective. The TVs also gave me a way to pass important story facts to the character—and readers—without resorting to a (boring) narrative information dump. Plus hanging out in the union with college students is a whole lot more fun than hanging out at my house with the laundry and the dishes.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Louisburg Library

I have some details of my upcoming talk at the Louisburg Library:

Louisburg Public Library
Louisburg, Kansas
4:00 p.m.
October 18, 2007

I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with Louisburg readers!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another Writing Tip From the Conclave

On our panel, “From Cooking to Basketry to Basketball: Weaving Passions Into Plots,” Diane Mott Davidson shared this writing tip: She plots her action on a calendar. She first maps out on the calendar page the time frame of the story, then she fills in the action on the appropriate days. This makes perfect sense, especially for her culinary mysteries. Anyone who has read her books knows that her main character, caterer Goldy Schulz, lives her own life by the calendar and the catering events she has booked on it.

But it makes a lot of sense for any kind of novel-length story. How many times have I tried to sort out in my mind things like: If Kirby and Bragger get the permission slips on Friday, when will they need to turn them in? Or: If Kirby and Bragger have been doing this and that and that other thing all week, shouldn’t it be time for a weekend already? How helpful it would be to have everything mapped out so I can look at it and know exactly which day which characters are doing what. I’m certainly going to try it.

Also, Diane says she doesn’t weave the plot around Goldy’s catering dates. She does just the opposite—she schedules the catering dates according to what needs to happen in the mystery. If Goldy needs to run into another character and note odd behavior or glean an important clue from the conversation, Diane schedules the next catered affair to fit into that plot point.

More Conclave Reporting

I spent a lot of time with Juliet Kincaid at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave. Juliet was part of the “Mystery in History” panel and shared some great tips on conducting historical research for mystery writing. My favorite tip was: Tell everyone you know what you’re researching. Through word of mouth and serendipity, chances are good you’ll find exactly the right person who can give you exactly the right information.

Juliet wrote up her own conclave report for our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Click here to read it on the Partners in Crime site.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Conclave Report

I always have such a great time at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, and this year was no exception. Keynote speaker Diane Mott Davidson looks like Kathleen Turner and is as smart, funny, and utterly charming as it is possible to be. And she brought Got-A-Hot-Date Bars—that she made herself before coming, from a recipe from her latest culinary mystery, Sweet Revenge—to hand out at her book signing. (Honestly, these bars are so good, they should be called Better-Than-A-Hot-Date Bars.) I bought Sweet Revenge while I was at the Conclave, and I’m enjoying the story even more now that I can hear Diane’s voice in my head as I read.

Nancy Pickard was as gracious and wonderful as always, and while we were at the Conclave, she found out that she had won the Macavity Award for The Virgin of Small Plains. No book deserves it more. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, treat yourself. It is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Will Thomas was a terrific toastmaster. I haven’t yet read his historical mysteries about a private detective and his sidekick in Victorian London, but I fully intend to. They sound wonderful.

The law enforcement panel was terrific, as always. There are only a handful of certified forensic anthropologists and forensic psychologists in the country, and we’re fortunate to have one of each teaching at Kansas State University in Manhattan. They, along with a Riley County homicide detective, the retired Riley County district attorney (who sounds just like Jimmy Stewart—I kid you not), and the chief public defender in Wichita, spoke for over two hours on Saturday morning, and were just fascinating. I could’ve listened to them all day.

I missed a few of the Conclave regulars who couldn’t attend this year, such as Susan McBride, Mark Bouton, and Margaret Shauers. And of course, it’s a little like Christmas—I looked forward to it for so long that now that it’s over, I’m feeling a bit of a letdown.

But that won’t last long because this Friday I’ll be motoring down to Wichita for the Kansas Book Festival. I am very lucky to be invited to so many fun book events.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kansas Book Festival

Next week I’ll be attending the Kansas Book Festival in Wichita. This is the second year for the festival. I went last year, and WOW, it was a wonderful two days of books, music, authors, and storytellers. It was successful beyond even the organizers’ dreams, and the second year promises to be even bigger.

I’ll be speaking on a panel called “LOL: Funny Fiction” with fellow middle-grade writers J.B. Cheaney and Justin Matott. I’ve participated in panels with J.B. Cheaney a couple of times before, and she’s a wonderful writer and speaker. I’m looking forward to meeting Justin.

Here are the details:

LOL: Funny Fiction
9:45 to 10:45 a.m.
October 5
Tween Time Tent
Koch Arena (at Wichita State University)
21st & Hillside
Wichita, Kansas

After the panel I’ll sign books from 11:00 to 11:30 a.m. at the Town Crier Bookstore booth. And after that I’m going to wander around the festival enjoying all the other author panels and talks. I’m bringing my son, who is 13 and is always fun to hang out with (unless he’s doing math homework, in which case he’s no fun at all).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Spaghetti Method

First drafts are hard. I can very happily revise all day long. But facing that blank page, trying to create something out of nothing, can be sheer agony. Once in awhile I’ll get into a groove and those first draft words will simply flow, but that’s a gift so rare, I don’t even remember the last time it happened.

The reason first drafts are so difficult is that I subconsciously worry that the words I put on that blank page won’t be the right ones, that I’ll choose wrong before I even start. I sit paralyzed, my fingers hovering over the keyboard, trying to work out in my mind which words, in which order, I should use to tell my story—and not being able to commit to any of them. Finally I give up in frustration and go in search of a tasty snack (because, as my friend Suzanne says, I may get writer’s block, but I never get eater’s block).

In order to get anything written, I’ve had to develop the Spaghetti Method. When facing that blank page, I start throwing words at it to see if any of them stick. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m doing this, that whatever I throw on there doesn’t have to stay, that I can always scrape it off later. But the Spaghetti Method helps circumvent the agony of the first draft and gets me more quickly to the part I enjoy: revision.

First drafts still aren’t (usually) easy. And I’m still waiting for the next blissful moment of first-draft flow. But in the meantime, I’m not facing a blank page unarmed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Partners in Crime

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and of the Kansas City chapter, Partners in Crime. The other night at our monthly meeting, I volunteered to put up a website for the chapter. The president said, “Hey, great! We’ve been needing a web maven.” I’m hardly a maven—of anything, much less the Internet—but I figured even I could set up the information on a blog. Blogs are free, which, coincidentally, is exactly how much our chapter can afford.

I think it turned out pretty well: PartnersInCrimeKC. If you live in the Kansas City area and are interested in mysteries, you can find information there on our activities and members and can download past issues of our newsletter. And then you could join us at our meetings. We get together on the second Wednesday of each month, and we always have great speakers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Washburn-Auburn Book Fair Update

The Washburn-Auburn schools have invited me to participate in their book fair this year, and I’ve just confirmed some of the details:

Auburn-Washburn Book Fair
December 1, 2007
Barnes and Noble
6130 SW 17th Street
Topeka, Kansas

The book fair runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I’ll be there starting at 10 a.m. and will stay as long as they need (or want!) me. I’m excited. I love book fairs. And book fairs in December are especially wonderful because they’re a great opportunity to do a little holiday shopping.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I saw the most wonderful movie this afternoon—“Once,” an Irish film about a Dublin musician and a Czech girl who meet and change each others’ lives. It’s a sweet, lovely story that doesn’t feel at all staged. It’s more like we’re eavesdropping on these people’s lives. It’s not a movie for children. Not that there’s anything objectionable about it, save for a bit of language here and there. I just don’t think there’s enough action to keep kids involved.

But, oh, adults, treat yourselves to this. The music is incredible. I left the theatre and headed straight for the music store to buy the soundtrack. The songs are infectious and haunting, and now that I’m home and have been doing a bit of online research, I see why. Glen Hansard, who plays the Dublin musician, is apparently a huge star in Ireland, the lead singer and guitarist of the Irish band The Frames. I’m glad I finally know this. I’ve really been missing out on something terrific.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Go, Mrs. Holloway!

My son is in eighth grade, and Tuesday we went to Back-to-School Night. His language arts teacher handed out notes with a web address on it—for her teacher blog. She keeps a blog so she can list assignments, supplies they need, what they’re working on in class, and anything else students and parents need to know. What a great use for a blog!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I just got a (very) tentative schedule of events for the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, and I’m going to be on a panel with Diane Mott Davidson. How cool is that? The panel is “From Cooking to Basketry to Basketball: Weaving Passions into Plots.” So far the three panelists are Diane, who writes culinary mysteries, of course (the menu at the conference banquet will be based on recipes from her books—yum), Beth Groundwater, who writes mysteries about a woman who owns a gift basket business (and who is a lovely person—I met her at the first GMMC), and me (Airball, of course, is about basketball). This should be great fun.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


It’s no secret I love mysteries. And I’ve talked about the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave before, but I wanted to mention it again because this year’s Conclave is coming up in about a month and a half. I am so looking forward to it.

This is a great mystery convention. It’s such a warm, friendly weekend, the perfect place to start if you’ve never been to a mystery convention and are a little nervous about attending. This year’s Guest of Honor is Diane Mott Davidson. Her books prove something I’ve long contended, that setting is one of the most important ingredients (for me, at least) in a mystery series. I love vicariously tootling about fictional Aspen Meadow, Colorado (based on the real Evergreen, Colorado, a picturesque town in the Rockies east of Denver) with main character Goldy Bear Schultz in her catering van as she stumbles over dead bodies. I love sitting in Goldy’s kitchen, sipping espresso as she whips up something sinfully chocolate while contemplating murder suspects.

This will be the fourth year for the Conclave, and my fourth year to attend. We always have a lots Kansans in attendance, of course, but conference-goers come from all over, even as far away as Hawaii. There’s always a big contingent of mystery lovers from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. So if you live anywhere close and you love mysteries, this would be a wonderful way to spend a weekend. It will take place September 28–30, 2007.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Not to Beat the Topic of Nancy to Death, But. . .

. . . I’ve recently discovered the joys of eBay. And yes, it’s a dangerous place. I’ve been bidding on old Nancy Drew books and, to my surprise, I’ve actually won a few. No small feat since I really have no idea what I’m doing.

As the packages have arrived, I’ve realized that the passion I’ve had for those books since I was nine years old is still there, undiluted. I can’t even describe how much I loved Nancy, how I devoured each book straight through, without coming up for air or food or potty breaks. How, when I finished, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

The passion has been latent for a few years, but now, as I hold these books and feel the weight of them and look at the pictures (I love the blue multi-illustration endpapers—why can’t my books have glorious endpapers? Oh, yeah. They’re expensive to produce.), that feeling is still there. That pure love of a character and a story—or a series of stories. I’m sure it’s the same feeling young readers of Harry Potter have.

And I want to inspire that kind of love in readers. I don’t know what the magic is. The right combination of character, setting, and situation. Plus page-turning action. But I want to find it.

Okay. So I guess I know what my life’s goal is.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Author Breakfast

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I had such a great time at the Reading Reptile Author Breakfast. First of all, Reading Reptile is a wonderful store, packed with children’s books, with enormous papier mâché children’s book characters—Lyle Crocodile, Kevin Henkes’s Lily (of Plastic Purse fame), Firehouse Dog, and dozens more—hanging from the ceiling, children’s book posters papering the ceiling, toys and reading nooks everywhere (including a little cupboard you can crawl into with a book—or at least, a child could crawl into with a book; an adult would find it a tight fit, which is probably the point), and an orange cat who likes to be scratched. Plus Debbie and Pete’s adorable kids, who have been pretty much raised in the bookstore. It’s Book Heaven. It’s where I would have like to have been raised.

And the breakfast was such fun. Deb and Pete, the owners, managed, somehow, to squeeze in enough tables to seat 60+ people, and after a yummy meal, the authors took turns telling about “My Pet,” which was truly a delight. Each author’s presentation was funny and entertaining, from Jenny Whitehead’s movie about Aubrey the demon cat (yes! a real movie) to Eric Brace’s and Shane Evans’s slide shows, to Lisa Campbell Ernst’s hilarious reenactment of reading books to her hamster.

Deb and Pete plan to make this an annual event, so if you live anywhere close to Kansas City, give yourself a treat and attend next year’s breakfast.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reading Reptile

Kansas City is very lucky to have the Reading Reptile, a fabulous children’s bookstore in the charming Brookside area, and I’m very lucky to have been invited to the Reading Reptile’s Summer Author Breakfast this Saturday, July 14. It’s an opportunity for authors and other children’s booklovers to hang out together while eating great food (breakfast is my favorite meal), and I’ll be there with authors and illustrators Jenny Whitehead, Pete Whitehead, Laura Huliska-Beith, Lisa Campbell Ernst, Eric Brace, Cheryl Harness, Shane W. Evans, and Christine Taylor-Butler, so I know I’ll have a great time.

Here is a link to last Sunday’s Kansas City Star article about the breakfast. The event is already sold out, but the owners of Reading Reptile are already making plans for next year’s breakfast, which will take place in a larger venue so that more people can attend.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Little Space

I finally dragged my Neanderthal self into the twenty-first century and put up a MySpace page. Here’s the URL if anyone wants to take a peek:


For writers (or anyone else) who are thinking of putting up a MySpace page but feel overwhelmed by the whole thing, hey, I was right there with you a couple days ago. I would get onto MySpace, then quickly scurry off again because I found it all too confusing. But if you poke around, things start to make sense, and already—two days later—I’m convinced the time I invested (and it does take a bit of time to set up and start inviting friends) was worth it.

To my friends list I’ve added other writers—some I already knew and others who are new to me—plus libraries, teen library advisors, ALA, YALSA, Sisters in Crime, and Astrokitty, a comic book shop in Lawrence I didn’t even know existed until I found their MySpace page. I’ve since visited the shop in person, and it’s a great place. Lots of comics and comics collectibles, staffed by friendly comic book geeks who really know their stuff and don’t mind having a children’s writer pick their brains. This is handy since it turns out the main character of my next novel is also a comic book geek who really knows his stuff.

At first I was shy about inviting anyone I didn’t already know to be a MySpace friend, but now I’m becoming brazen. I’ve even invited Paul McCartney. Not that I think Sir Paul is actually maintaining—or even looking at—his own MySpace page. But my rule of thumb is, if you get the opportunity to be friends—any kind of friends—with Paul McCartney, take it. He hasn’t responded yet, but I’m optimistic.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

If You Love Nancy Like I Love Nancy. . .

. . . treat yourself to the new Nancy Drew movie. It’s a delight. The casting is wonderful. Emma Roberts is perfect as the intrepid, unflappable Nancy, and Tate Donovan and Max Thieriot are equally perfect as her father, Carson Drew, and her boyfriend, the long-suffering Ned. The mystery is compelling, with Nancy trying to solve the twenty-five-year-old murder of the glamorous movie star who used to live in the house she and her father rent while he’s on temporary assignment in L.A., and while Nancy fans may be disappointed that Bess, George, and Hannah only rate a small appearance at the beginning of the movie, her new friend Corky (played by Josh Flitter) is the perfect wise-cracking foil to Nancy’s single-minded, rule-following approach to crime solving.

The story, too, strikes the perfect balance between honoring the Nancy Drew tradition and having fun with—without making fun of—it. Nancy still sports her traditional look—knee socks, penny loafers, sweater sets, and lots and lots of plaid—but she looks great in it, and even fashionable in a totally Nancy way. She finds secret passageways, is always prepared with a flashlight and compass, and remains completely oblivious to any romantic notions Ned may have in mind. And no matter what she attempts, Nancy, as always, is better at it than anybody else. In math class she knows the answer to every question. In gym class, she outruns every other girl on the track, while remaining well-groomed and cheerful. In woodshop, while the other students construct roughly-hewn key holders, she builds a replica of Notre Dame Cathedral, appologizing to her teacher because she “only had time for twelve flying buttresses. In actuality, there are twenty-six.”

The movie is hilarious at times, with Nancy saying things like (when her father forbids her to do any more sleuthing): “I understand his concern. There was that whole hostage situation.” And (when the bad guys attempt to run her down with a car): “Usually when people try to kill me, it means I’m on to something.” And (when she finds a suspicious ticking mechanism in the back seat of her blue roadster): “Excuse me. I need to go defuse this bomb.”

I enjoyed every minute of this movie and hope there’s a sequel. Or even, dare I wish, a. . . series. I’ve loved Nancy Drew since my mom (who read Nancy when she was a girl) gave me The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery for Christmas. No, wait. I didn’t just love Nancy; I wanted to be Nancy. I grew up in the 70s, at a time when girls were still being told they couldn’t do everything boys could do, and here was Nancy, proving them all wrong. Devouring Nancy Drew books was one of the things that first made me want to be—and think I could be—a writer.

And I’m seriously thinking about buying some knee socks, penny loafers, and a plaid headband.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mysteries on PBS

Summer is the time when most network TV shows wind down, but on PBS, two of my favorite shows are just winding up. “Mystery!” has already started running on Sunday nights and this year includes episodes of “Foyle’s War,” a truly engrossing series starring the thoroughly watchable Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks as Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle and his driver, Samantha Stewart, solving mysteries on the homefront (the British homefront, of course) during World War II.

This Monday, June 25 (but check your local listings because PBS shows can vary), the new season of “History Detectives” begins, starring four experts in history, art history, and art appraisal who track down the real history behind folklore, artifacts, family legends, and heirlooms. Example: A woman owns bullets her family believes were recovered from the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde. The history detectives go to work, finding out if the family story is true, and if not, what the real story is. Many times the legends about the objects are not true, but the real story turns out to be fascinating.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More About the Liberty Memorial Than You Probably Ever Wanted to Know

For Father’s Day, my sister and I took our dad, his friend, and our aunt to the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, and WOW—I knew the new museum was supposed to be terrific, but I had no idea how terrific. I am, I admit, a total history geek, so this kind of thing is right up my alley, but even for non-geeks it’s cool. And for my family, it was cool in a personal way.

First, a bit of Liberty Memorial history: Immediately after the November 11, 1918, signing of the armistice to end The Great War, the people of Kansas City began planning and raising money for a monument to honor the men and women who had fought and died. On November 11, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge came to Kansas City to dedicate the memorial tower and its two exhibit halls. Sadly, over the years, Liberty Memorial fell into disrepair. Happily, in the late 1990s the people of Kansas City once again began raising money (this time in the form of a tax increase), and in December 2006, the newly restored memorial and brand new museum—the only museum dedicated solely to World War I—was opened.

The museum is circular. When you enter, you cross a glass bridge that spans a field of 9000 red poppies—one poppy for each 1000 lives lost in WWI. (You know those red paper poppies the VFW sells on Memorial Day to raise money for disabed veterans? They symbolize the lives lost in WWI and were inspired by “In Flanders Field,” a poem by a Canadian officer who was struck by the beautiful poppies that continued to grow amid the death and destruction on the battlefields of Belgium.)

The first exhibit is a short movie showing the circumstances in Europe leading up to the war. You then enter the right side of the circle, which contains exhibits and a timeline (through March 1917) showing Europe and parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia at war, including weapons, uniforms (I loved this part—uniforms from Australia, Japan, Africa, and even a Scottish kilt), posters, propaganda, and re-creations of French and British trenches so that you can get a feel for the daily bleakness and misery of the soldiers’ lives.

The entire back of the circle is the Horizon Theater, where you watch another movie, this time showing how the United States was pulled into the war. And WOW, what an experience this is. First of all, this movie (as well as the movie at the beginning) is interesting and dramatic and pulls you into the time period. But what makes this second film even more dramatic is the way the Horizon Theater is set up. Museum-goers sit on a balcony overlooking a life-size re-creation of a battlefield, with an enormous widescreen theater screen at the back, so that the film plays behind—and eerily lights up—the soldiers and scarred landscape.

The theater leads into the left side of the museum, dedicated to the involvement of the United States in the war. This is where it starts to get personal.

Again, a bit of history, this time about my family: My grandfather, my dad’s dad, who died when I was four, fought in France in World War I. He was in the 89th Division, 353rd Infantry Regiment, from Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas.

And on one wall of the U.S. section of the museum we found insignias of each WWI division, including the 89th, known as the “Rolling W.” Beside it were several old photos of various military units, including the 353rd Infantry. The photo was high on the wall and hard to see, especially since each soldier’s face was so tiny, but with my aunt’s help—and a big magnifying glass—we think we found Grandpa.

Outside, above the museum in one of the original Exhibit Halls that flank the memorial tower, we found maps of the Argonne Forest, which showed exactly where each regiment of the 89th Division, including the 353rd, fought during battles in September and October 1918. Grandpa told my dad and my aunt he’d gone “over the top,” meaning out of the trenches and into close combat, three times—and these maps showed us exactly when and where. For me, it was like reaching back through time and meeting the grandfather I remember and love, but barely got the chance to know. And I think for my dad and my aunt, it was like once again being—at least a little bit—with the father whom, forty years after his death, they still sorely miss.

To honor my grandfather, we bought a brick for the section of the Liberty Memorial Walk of Honor dedicated to World War I veterans. It will be installed in mid-October, just in time for Veterans Day (which seems fitting, since Veterans Day was, until 1954, called Armistice Day to commemorate the signing of the WWI armistice on November 11, 1918). It will say:

Knud C. Knudsen
353rd Infantry

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Signing at Borders

Yesterday my local Borders in Lawrence, Kansas, hosted a book signing and reception for me, in honor of Airball being named to the 2007–2008 William Allen White Award list (the student book award in Kansas), and Lisa, the Borders manager, and Annie, the children’s books manager, really went out of their way to make it wonderful. They set me—and a mountain of my books—right inside the front door and put out cookie and strawberry shake samples from the café to entice patrons over to the table. Annie stayed with me, welcoming customers and gushing about Airball. I felt like a celebrity.

I saw one of the girls I met at Thursday’s library visit in Eudora. She brought a friend who hadn't been able to come to the library, which really touched me. Several friends stopped by, including one of my dearest college friends, who has been moving around the country the last ten years for her husband’s job and who recently moved back. It was great to see her.

In fact, it was a great day all the way around.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chatting in Eudora

Today I went to the library for lunch. No kidding. The Eudora Public Library in Eudora, Kansas, invited me to their Brown Bag Teen Summer Reading group. About ten kids came, and we met outside on a shady spot on the library lawn. I talked a bit about writing and my books, then we chatted while we ate. The kids asked smart questions, and I tried to come up with at least semi-intelligent answers. It was relaxed and informal, and I had a really good time. One of the girls from the group told me she wants to be a writer and a journalist, which is great. I love to hear from kids who are pursuing their dreams.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes

I just finished Richard Peck’s On the Wings of Heroes and loved it. I wasn’t sure I would at first. I love historical fiction, but when I started this book, I was afraid it would be one of those “wasn’t life better and more charming back in the day” author memoirs thinly disguised as fiction. I shouldn’t have worried. Richard Peck is too good a writer for that. I’ve loved his recent books, including A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and Fair Weather.

On the Wings of Heroes is the ambling and episodic tale of Davy Bowen, a boy coming of age during WWII. The episodes are held together by the over-arching question of whether Davy’s older brother, Bill, a pilot flying missions from England, will survive and return home. The story is sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes both.

Which is my very favorite kind of story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fun in Emporia

Okay, so when most people think of fun, the words “Emporia, Kansas” don’t usually leap to mind, but I had a great time at the Author Extravaganza at the Town Crier Bookstore in Emporia yesterday. The store was packed with writers—over forty of us—signing books and chatting with patrons, bookstore employees, and each other. Several school librarians brought their libraries’ copies of Airball for me to sign, and my cousin, who lives in Emporia, tracked me down just to say hi and get me to sign a book. Plus Emporia has one of those lovely old downtowns, with wide streets, tall buildings, and independent non-chain shops—hardware stores, coffee shops, Town Crier, of course, and a gourmet chocolate shop.

Now that I’m home, I’m getting ready for a teen brown bag lunch and book talk next Thursday at noon at the Eudora Public Library.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Love Letter to Bookstores

This Saturday, June 9, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., I’ll be part of the Author Extravaganza, a booksigning of over forty Kansas authors at Town Crier in Emporia. Once again, I am humbled by how enthusiastically my regional bookstores have embraced Airball: My Life in Briefs. Here, in no particular order (except the chaotic order in which my brain spits them out), are a few of the bookstores that have gone out of their way to promote Airball, with a big thank you and a cyber hug to each of them:

Town Crier BookstoreEmporia, Kansas
Becky at Town Crier has been promoting my book, stocking my book at regional library fairs, and has invited me to participate in the Author Extravaganza.

Oread BooksUniversity of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Lisa at Oread arranged three booksignings for me right after Airball came out, including a group signing during their annual holiday faculty and staff open house. The staff has really promoted Airball and at one point displayed it in three different areas of the store.

The RavenLawrence, Kansas
Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright, owners of this fabulous mystery bookstore, have talked up Airball, reviewed it in their newsletter, and promoted it on their weekly radio spot.

Borders BooksLawrence, Kansas
This Borders has invited me to their store twice—the first time for a booksigning during last year’s Educator Appreciation Week, and again for the upcoming booksigning and reception on June 16, 2007, at 3 p.m. The reception is to celebrate Airball being named to the William Allen White Award List.

Claflin Books and CopiesManhattan, Kansas
Even though Airball centers on KU Jayhawk basketball and contains scenes set at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Stormy Lee Kennedy and her crew in Manhattan (home of rival Kansas State University) have promoted the heck out of the book and made sure it was available at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave and library events. Stormy was also on the judging panel that selected Airball as a Kansas Notable Book.

The Book BarnLeavenworth, Kansas
Bob and Barb Spear, owners of this eclectic independent bookstore, have made sure Leavenworth knows about Airball and last December invited me to be part of their Christmas Open House.

Watermark BooksWichita, Kansas
The staff at Watermark has really pushed Airball, featured a really terrific review of it on their website, and made the book available at the Kansas Author Dinner at last year’s Tri-Conference. Watermark’s Mark David Bradshaw listed it as one of his favorite books of 2005 and published a nice long interview with me in The Wichita City Paper during last year’s Kansas Book Festival.

Book Kansas!Wichita, Kansas
This website-based bookstore, devoted to promoting books about Kansas and by Kansans, has made sure Airball was available at the Kansas Author Dinner and other book events around the state.

Reading Reptile
Kansas City, Missouri
Deb and Pete at this fabulous (and I’m not exaggerating—Reading Reptile is fabulous) children’s bookstore in the charming Brookside section of Kansas City have invited me to be part of their author’s breakfast in July.

And I know I’ve probably forgotten some terrific bookstores that have gone above and beyond to help readers find my book (please—leave a comment if you know of one I’ve neglected to mention). I’m lucky to have so many passionate booksellers in my neck of the woods.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I’m a Book Bite!

I’m so flattered. Suzanne Lieurance, director of the National Writing for Children Center, interviewed me for her Book Bites for Kids podcast. Each Tuesday, Suzanne chats with a children’s book author and puts the recorded interview up on the NWFCC website. And this week, her guest was me. If you want to hear what I sound like (and trust me, I sound a whole lot better in my head than I do as a recording), click here and scroll down the page to the post for Tuesday, May 29.

I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to say to fill the whole podcast. Ha! Once I started talking about writing and children’s books, I chattered on and on—and on—as usual.

Thank you, Suzanne, for inviting me to be your guest this week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For Teachers and Librarians

I’ve posted a Curriculum Guide to Airball on my website. Barb Bahm, librarian extraordinaire for the Tonganoxie, Kansas, school district, created this guide for the William Allen White Children’s Book Awards and gave me permission to use it.

Thank you, Barb!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wow, Wow, Wow

The Kansas City Literary Festival yesterday was great. The day was perfect—sunny and beautiful. The setting was perfect—the Country Club Plaza (which, for non-Kansas Citians, is a historic, Seville-inspired shopping district that’s a pure delight to wander through, even when there isn’t a festival going on). The festival-goers were perfect—happy, book-loving folks, many with their children, dogs, and grandparents in tow. It was a lovely day, with lots of everything going on, from music to booktalks to readings to cooking and robotics demonstrations to a giant python wrapped around the snake guy’s shoulders. The C-Span BookTV bus was even there, filming and interviewing.

Things were hopping at the Kansas SCBWI tent, too. Sheila Berenson did a great job of coordinating book drawings, author talks, face painting, and other events that drew a lot of kids, parents, and writers to our tent. I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen in much too long and made new friends I hope to see again soon.

This is the first Kansas City Literary Festival in this venue, and I read in the paper this morning that festival planners were so pleased with the outcome that they’ve already begun planning to make this an annual event.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

KS SCBWI Conference Update

The flyer, schedule, and registration form for the Kansas SCBWI 2007 conference, Get Your DUCKS in a Row, to be held Saturday, June 23, at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park is now up at their website. (<—Wow, was that a long, convoluted sentence or what? Sorry.)

Conference speakers include:
Editors—Rachel Orr, HarperCollins; Tanya Dean, Darby Creek Publishing.
Agent—Michelle Andelman, Andrea Brown Literary.
Authors/Illustrators—Elaine Alphin; Richard Jennings; Sue Alexander; Daniel Schwabauer; Laura Huliska-Beith.

I can tell you from personal experience that Kansas SCBWI and Johnson County Community College both know how to put on a terrific conference. This one should be well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Partners in Crime, the Kansas City chapter of Sisters in Crime, is a rocking bunch. They meet each month at a local Borders, and they always invite a speaker—sometimes an author, more often someone in law enforcement, such as a police officer, district attorney, private eye, or forensic investigator. No matter who they have, the talk is always interesting.

This month’s speaker had been AT&T’s head of security for nearly 30 years, and honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to hearing him all that much. I mean, security guy for the phone company? But, as always, the talk turned out to be fascinating. Corporate security is more than the guards at the door in the pretend police uniforms. The speaker’s department was more like a detective unit, and he regaled us with stories about the cases they handled, including working surveillance to uncover fraud in various locations, such as residential streets, softball games, and a bowling alley. It turns out that when you’re lying low in a residential area, trying to monitor a house, Neighborhood Watch is your worst enemy. (Luckily, if you work for the phone company, you can cook up a cover story about testing signal strength in the area.)

He told us about trying to protect an employee who’d been stalked by an increasingly threatening guy for over two years, to the point of being stabbed in the back while she was out shopping. . . only to find that the woman was stalking—and had stabbed—herself.

He also told us about heading off disgruntled ex-employees who were at high risk for returning to the workplace loaded with weapons. One thing the security department looked for was what he called an Avenger Personality. I know—sounds like a comic book superhero. But in this case it’s the personality type most likely to shoot up a former workplace: white male, usually middle-aged, with an obvious obsession with guns and/or the military (but who has probably never been in the military) and very little in the way of a support system (he’s divorced/never married and is estranged from his family). These were the guys they looked out for, and in at least one case, they thwarted what could have been a real tragedy. They stopped a recently fired man as he drove back into the parking lot, and in his car found a gun, a machete, and his handwritten last will and testament.


As I listened to this man talk, I realized why every Partners in Crime speaker is so fascinating. If you get a person who is truly good at—and loves—his job and ask him to tell you about it, he will show you just exactly what it is that makes that job so interesting to him.

I’m glad I went. I still can’t shake the mental image of phone company guys running surveillance while bowling.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother’s Day!

I had a great Mom’s Day. It started a little early for my taste. My son is on a travel baseball team*, and they had a tournament this weekend. We rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning so we could be at the ballfield by 7:00. But breakfast was waiting for us when got up because last night I took my daughter to a birthday party, and while I was gone, my son baked a pan of sweet rolls he learned to make in FACS (family and consumer science—what we used to call home ec) and wrapped them up for Mother’s Day breakfast this morning. The kid has his moments!

And tonight my husband fixed Mother’s Day dinner—steaks grilled outside, with potatoes and corn on the cob. The big guy has his moments, too.

In between baseball and eating, my daughter and I managed to slip off to the nursery and buy tomato plants, begonias for the hanging baskets on my front porch, potting soil, and the best plant-related item I’ve ever purchased: a hanging basket so full of tomato plants—with at least a hundred little green tomatoes already on the vine—that I had to have help lifting it into my car. Now I don’t have to wait till July for garden-fresh tomatoes. I’ll have them in a week or so. And they’ll be hanging outside my door, ready to be picked.

Is there anything better on this earth than a just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun?

* About my son, I know I’m his mother, so my opinion is slightly biased, but man can that kid pitch a baseball. And here’s the great part: It wasn’t that long ago, maybe two years, that he would do anything to get out of pitching. (My son: “Coach, my arm’s hurting. I don’t know how much longer I can go.” Coach: “But son, you haven’t faced a batter yet.”) It wasn’t because he couldn’t throw, but because he was afraid he wouldn’t throw well, and everyone would see, and then he’d look stupid. There’s no place to hide on a pitcher’s mound. But he liked to pitch (when no one was looking), and he’s left-handed (which he knew would be valuable to his team, especially as they got older), so he took lessons and made himself do it anyway, and now he can’t wait to get on the mound. He wants to start every game.

I remind him of this whenever he thinks something’s too hard. I tell him, “See? When you push yourself through adversity, you get to the other side better and stronger.” He, of course, rolls his eyes and says, “Does everything have to be a lesson?” Sorry, son, but yes, when you’re a mom, everything does have to be a lesson.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Kansas City Literary Festival

On Saturday, May 19, I’ll take part (a small part) in the Kansas City Literary Festival at the Country Club Plaza. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and includes author readings and booksignings, storytelling, food demonstations, puppet shows, theatre presentations, music and skits by Radio Disney, jazz from the American Jazz Museum, robotics demonstations, a snake guy, film-making, vendors, literary organizations, and lots, lots more (as I clicked through the website, I couldn’t believe how much more—this is going to be a great day). Authors include Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Michael Bechloss, Nancy Pickard, Roderick Townley, Wyatt Townley, Malachy McCourt, and Vicki Grove. If you live anywhere near Kansas City, this is the place to be on May 19.

The festival will be divided into four sections with a stage in each section. I’ll be signing books from 11:30 to noon in the Kids section. Afterward I’ll hang out with the Kansas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Tent 204, where I’ll take part in the Middle Grade Booktalk from 2:05 to 2:35 p.m.

Sheila Berenson, Kansas SCBWI secretary, has done a fabulous job—on very short notice—of organizing the Kansas SCBWI tent and getting Kansas and Missouri SCBWI members into other festival venues. She’s been like the guy on stage trying to keep all the plates spinning, and to Sheila’s credit, she hasn’t let any of them fall. Thank you, Sheila!

Monday, May 07, 2007

I Love My Library

As I’ve mentioned before, I love my library, for many reasons, including this new one:

I strolled into the library last week, and there it was—a display of my books in the center of the main aisle. How cool am I?

Actually, how cool is my library? In truth, it’s a very cool library for reasons that have nothing to do with me. I live in a small town, but our library is great—roomy, comfy, technologically savvy, with a healthy collection (and new books coming in all the time), a librarian who is on top of everything, and a staff that offers all kinds of programs and activities. We’re pretty fortunate here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Great Week

What a wonderful week I had. On Tuesday, I visited Lansing Middle School, and the students, faculty, and staff were terrific. I did assemblies for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, led a writing workshop, and ate a school lunch that was actually. . . pretty good. The whole school had read Airball and seemed enthusiastic about it. They even gave me a red wooden gift box of goodies related to the book—tea, candle, Jayhawk mug, mini basketball, keychain, chocolate (the path to a writer’s heart always goes through chocolate!). . .

. . . and a pair of undershorts signed, “We loved your book! Thanks, LMS.”

How very cool and creative! A big THANK YOU to Marlene Brown, LMS librarian, who invited me, made sure everything went smoothly, and treated me like royalty all day.

On Wednesday, I drove out to Manhattan for the North Central Kansas Library System (NCKLS) Book Fair. This was my second year to attend, and (as I’ve said before) any day spent with writers and librarians is, by definition, a good day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lansing, Here I Come!

I’m busy making preparations for next Tuesday’s author visit at Lansing Middle School in Lansing, Kansas. I’ll give large assembly talks to the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades and conduct a workshop for students who are especially interested in writing.

I’m especially looking forward to visiting LMS because this is where my daughter attended middle school, and I know many of the teachers and staff. If you’re a Lansing student or faculty member, I’ll see you soon!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Speaking of Conferences. . .

. . . information about this year’s Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave is up at their website. It’s scheduled for September 28–30, 2007, and it looks to be another great conference. The keynote speaker is Diane Mott Davidson, and since her books are culinary mysteries, the Conclave’s Saturday night banquet will be “Dining with Diane,” featuring recipes from her books.

This is a terrific conference—for writers, readers, and anybody who loves a good mystery. It’s a warm, friendly, fun weekend, and I can’t wait for it to roll around again.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Kansas SCBWI Conference

The Kansas chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) will host its annual conference on June 22 & 23, 2007 at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. This year’s theme is Get Your DUCKS in a Row (Dialogue & description; Unique voice, plot/ideas, illustrations; Characters & conflict; Keep at it attitude; Submission readiness). Speakers include editors Rachel Orr of HarperCollins and Tanya Dean of Darby Creek, agent Michelle Andelman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, authors Elaine Marie Alphin, Sue Alexander, Dan Schwabauer, and Richard W. Jennings, and illustrator Laura Huliska-Beith.

Kansas SCBWI always puts together informative, fun, well-run conferences. If you write for children or want to write for children, this is the place for you!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kansas Authors Dinner

I had a great time Thursday at the Kansas Authors Dinner in Topeka. I met some fabulous librarians, signed a bunch of books, caught up with Kansas writers I already know and love, and met new (to me) Kansas writers, including Alice Bertels (author of a picture book biography of John Steuart Curry). Alice, it turns out, grew up in the same (very) small town my dad grew up in, and she knows many of my aunts and uncles. What are the odds? I also got a chance to talk with Stephen Johnson, an incredibly talented and successful artist and picture book illustrator I went to college with. I hadn’t seen Stephen since we graduated (umbledy-ump years ago).

Truly, an evening with librarians and writers is an evening well spent.

Programming Note: Sadly, the Conference with Authors I was scheduled to speak at next Wednesday, April 18, has been canceled. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Finally. . .

. . . I’ve updated the calendar page of my website. And man, do I have some things going on. I had no idea how busy I was. First off, as I already mentioned, I’ll be attending the Kansas Authors Dinner at the library Tri-Conference tomorrow night, Thursday, April 12, in Topeka. Then next Wednesday, April 18, I’ll be speaking on a panel and in smaller groups with fellow children’s writers Randi Hacker, Debra McArthur, and Vicki Grove at the Conference with Authors in the Kansas Union at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

I have several events scheduled for May and June, and have already begun planning some things for the fall. And it occurs to me that I am a very lucky person. I always dreamed that becoming a published writer would change my life, and it has, but in ways I never expected. Since Airball: My Life in Briefs was published, I’ve been invited to schools, bookstores, libraries, book fairs and festivals, radio programs, awards banquets, a ball (yes, really—with long glittery dresses, dancing, and everything), conferences, and the governor’s inaugural celebration, and I’ve met readers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, and the governor—all of whom I probably would never have encountered if not for my book. I am very lucky.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Undomestic Goddess

My friend Suzanne has been telling me for years that I must read Sophie Kinsella’s books, and I’ve just never gotten around to it. But earlier this month I had to make a long car trip, so I dashed into the library and checked out the audio version of Kinsella’s The Undomestic Goddess (a departure from her more well-known Shopaholic books) to entertain me on my journey. (Trust me, when you’re driving for hours. . . and hours. . . and hours along I-70 into western Kansas, you need entertainment.)

And Suzanne was right. The Undomestic Goddess was a hoot—funny and fresh, with a feisty, often clueless, but totally sympathetic main character named Samantha Sweeting. And somehow, even though a summary of the plot sounds far-fetched (high-powered London attorney makes a mistake that costs her firm and her client a fortune, runs away in a mortified daze, and, even though she can’t cook and doesn’t have the first idea about cleaning, accidentally lands a job as housekeeper at a country estate and, of course, falls for the gardener), Kinsella makes the whole thing pretty believable.

As I said, this was on CD, and although I haven’t listened to enough audio books to even pretend to be an expert, I do know that a good narrator can truly enrich a story. I recently listened to one narrator whose voice was so cloying, I could barely finish the book. This version of The Undomestic Goddess, however, is narrated by Rosalyn Landor, a British actress and true voice pro (a quick Google search tells me she’s done lots of voice work for animated TV shows and movies, including “The Incredibles”). Landor gives each character a distinct voice perfect for that individual. It’s worth listening to the CD just to hear her nasally interpretation of Trish, Samantha’s newly wealthy manor-house employer.

Ed Asner, who does the audio versions of many of Carl Hiaasen’s books, is another terrific narrator. He slips easily into each character’s voice without drawing attention to himself, and his voice has a sureness that lets you sink into the book and relax, knowing you’re in good hands. He’s so good, you forget you’re listening to somebody read. He’s so good, I’d listen to any book he narrated, no matter who the author or what the subject.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kansas Author Dinner

Each year the Kansas Center for the Book invites Kansas authors to attend the Kansas Author Dinner at the annual library Tri-Conference (sponsored by the Kansas Library Association, the Kansas Association of School Librarians, and the Kansas Association for Educational Communications and Technology). So—yay! hooray!—on Thursday, April 12, I’ll be in Topeka, munching on barbecue with librarians from all over the state.

This will be my second Author Dinner, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a brilliant way for authors and librarians to get together, and this year it’s closer to home (last year it was in Wichita, which is a great city, but makes for a long drive), so it should be a truly enjoyable evening.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Trip to the Dental College

Three things you never want to hear your dentist say:

“I hope you brought lucky charms with you. The last two crowns I tried to put on didn’t fit. ”

“Oh, did I mention we’re out of anasthetic?”

“Well, let’s give it a shot and see how it goes.”

But today, within the first three minutes of my 11th (yes—11th; that’s not a typo) visit to the dental college to try to get my old crown replaced, my dental student uttered all three. I was also treated to this little exchange:

Dental Student: “Mrs. Harkrader has been very patient. This is the second time we’ve tried to to fit her crown.”

Faculty Dentist: “Yeah, it’s after the seventh or eighth try when the patience starts to run out.”

(Me: !!!!!!!!!!!)

Sadly, I had not thought to bring lucky charms with me, so no, the second permanent crown did not fit. So my dental student had to pack this stuff that looks like really fat dental floss up under my gums again (isn’t this how the Nazis practiced dentistry?) and take a third impression. I couldn’t even scream in frustration because my dental student and his faculty advisor both had their latex-gloved hands halfway down my throat.

At this point I’d rather they just carve me a wooden George Washington tooth and release me from the dental nightmare.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Speaking of Suzanne. . .

My friend Suzanne Lieurance, who started the Kansas City Writers’ Meetup I spoke at last week, is a writing coach as well as a writer. Her program is called The Working Writer’s Coach, and she has recently started a coaching program especially for children’s writers, The Writing for Children Center.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meetup Report

I always have a great time when I’m talking about writing, and last night at the Kansas City Writers’ Meetup, despite a raging head cold and being hopped up on DayQuil, I managed to ramble on about children’s writing for a solid hour. We were a small but dedicated group of writers, and I think (I hope) I passed on some useful information.

My friend Suzanne Lieurance started this group last fall, and she’s done a great job of meeting the needs of writers with very diverse interests and skills. A big pat on the back to Suzanne.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Meeting Up

Next Tuesday, February 27, I’ll be speaking about building a career in children’s writing at the monthly Kansas City Writers’ Meetup. The meeting will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the Oak Park Library, 9500 Bluejacket, Overland Park, Kansas 66214.

I love to hang out with other writers, and I love to talk about writing—especially children’s writing—so this should be a fun evening.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Letters About Literature

This year I’m honored to be one of the judges for Letters About Literature, a Kansas Center for the Book project in which students in grades 4 to 12 write letters to authors of a books that have changed their lives. As I read through the submissions, I keep thinking WOW, do these kids know how to write, or what! The letters are written to authors ranging from Dr. Seuss to Jane Austen, and they’ve had me chuckling at times and choking back tears at others.

And every single one of them has humbled me. These letters remind me just how important children’s literature is. To kids and young adults, books aren’t just entertainment; they’re companions, friends, and—very often—a beacon in a confusing and sometimes painful world.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cindy Rules!

Yesterday the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of this year’s literary awards for children’s and young adult books, and I’m so pleased that Cynthia Lord, an online writing pal, won two (not one—two!) of them. Her wonderful debut novel, Rules, won the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade (ages 11–13) and was named a Newbery Honor Book. Hooray, Cindy!

The ALA awards, which include the Newbery, Caldecott, and Corretta Scott King Award, are some of the most distinguished prizes in children’s literature. Here is a complete list of this year’s winners: ALA Awards.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Speaking of Mysteries. . .

. . . I love watching British mysteries on TV, and I love PBS and the Biography Channel for bringing them to me. Thanks to PBS’s Mystery!, I’ve discovered such gems as “Foyle’s War,” “Hetty Wainthrop Investigates,” “Inspector Lynley,” and “Rosemary and Thyme,” among others. On Sunday afternoons and evenings, the Biography Channel runs episodes of “Poirot,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and my favorite, “Midsomer Murders,” based on Caroline Graham’s novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby investigating murder and mayhem in the quaint English villages of the fictional Midsomer County.

Masterpiece Theatre also shows an occasional mystery (most famously, the fabulous Helen Mirren in “Prime Suspect”). On February 4 (on my PBS channel, at least—check your local listings because it can vary) Masterpiece Theatre will show “Ruby in the Smoke,” based on the first book in the Sally Lockhart Victorian mystery/thriller trilogy by Philip Pullman (of The Golden Compass fame). I can’t wait. The book is a rollicking adventure starring a determined orphan determined to find the truth about her father’s murder, and the filmed version promises to be just as entertaining.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


As I’ve mentioned before, I love mysteries. So an article on the front page of yesterday’s Kansas City Star, Armchair Detectives Go Online to Connect,” naturally caught my eye. Apparently there’s a whole world of amateur detectives out there trying to solve true crimes on their blogs. And according to the article (which was sparked by two recent local crimes: the disappearance and murder of a Kansas college student and the kidnapping and subsequent rescue of the two boys in Missouri), these cybersleuthing blogs generate more web traffic than actual online news sources. They also generate a lot of rumors and wild speculation, as well as—once in a while—real information, so law enforcement authorities do monitor these sites.

Although delving into true crime makes me a bit squeamish (I much prefer my crimes to be fictional), I completely understand the impulse to want to solve these crimes. After all, it’s one of the reasons I read mysteries—just as I’d like to believe I’d have courage and character in the face of great challenge (see MLK post below), I’d also like to believe that if I stumbled across a murder, I’d be clever enough to solve it. And like a fictional murder mystery, cybersleuthing blogs give would-be amateur detectives a way to test their skills from the safe confines of their own home.

Who knew? (Okay, probably all of you knew, but I didn’t have a clue.)

Monday, January 15, 2007


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments
of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

I’d like to think I’d show true character in times of challenge and controversy, but when I think of all that Dr. King and others fighting for civil rights endured, I don’t know that I’d have their courage. I’m grateful that they did.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Inaugural Festival Report

The Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival was amazing. First of all, the Ramada Inn in downtown Topeka is a great hotel, with a huge atrium built to look like a European villa and many meeting rooms and ballrooms decorated with wonderful pieces of architecture—a staircase and ballistrade, windows, mirrors, and fireplaces—salvaged from the first Kansas Governor’s Mansion, a Queen Anne mansion built in 1886 and, sadly, demolished in 1964.

On Sunday, every square inch of the atrium, ballrooms, and meeting rooms was packed with stuff from Kansas—food, an art exhibit, food, crafts, quilts, food, music, storytellers, Wizard of Oz characters (no flying monkeys, unfortunately), food, history exhibits, more music, wildlife exhibits, hands-on children’s activities, and I think there was some food.

And, oh yeah, some authors. I hung out with other Kansas Notable Books authors, signing books and chatting with many of the thousands of people who came through—including one of my old painting professors that I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, who is now retired and living only a few miles from my house.

I also met the newly elected attorney general and got my picture taken with the governor, sampled chocolate pizza and ate spanakopita and baklava for lunch (any day that includes both chocolate and baklava is, by definition, a great day). I’m so glad I was invited.

Several of the Kansas Notable Books authors in the Claflin Books booth. Stormy Lee Kennedy, co-owner of Claflin and a member of the Notable Books committee, is at the far left.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival

Today I’m getting ready for the Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival that takes place tomorrow. It’s going to be a wonderful day packed with food (German bierocks, Indian Fry Bread, Tacos, and Greek, Jewish, Swedish, Indian, and Chinese cuisine), music (including jazz and the Topeka High Drum Line), arts (such as a mural that kids can help create), and crafts (including a huge quilt display), plus it’s free, so if you live close, pack up the kids and come out. Here are the particulars:

Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival
Theme: Mainstreet Kansas
Sunday, January 7, 2007
11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ramada Inn Downtown
420 E. 6th Street
Topeka, Kansas

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Speaking of the Pursuit of Happiness. . .

. . . I read an article in the paper before Christmas about a study showing that people who, before going to bed each night, listed three good things that happened to them that day reported an increase in happiness. I figured, hey, I’d give it shot. Doesn’t cost anything, and I’m always game for an increase in happiness.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month. Some days are admittedly easier than others, such as Christmas, when good things happen all day long. Other days are more of a challenge, like the day I drove over to the dental college for my eighth and (I thought) final visit to (finally) get my permanent crown, only to find (after a two-hour visit) that it didn’t fit and I’d have to put up with my temporary crown for at least another month until my dental student came back from Christmas break. (You know you’ve entered the Dental Twilight Zone when your dentist takes breaks between semesters, can’t schedule you during finals, and says things like, “Wait here. I have to get your impressions out of my locker.”) On that day, the good thing I managed to come up with was that I found a parking spot at the college on my first try. (You know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is decent parking.)

But you know what? It actually works. I have experienced an increase in happiness. I now sometimes find myself in a very good mood for no reason, which was a little disconcerting at first, but I’m getting used to it. The reason I think it works is that not only do I remind myself each day that good things have happened, I find myself, as I go about the day, making a mental note of all those good things so that I can put them on my list that night. And I actually think the relatively bad days are more responsible for the increased happiness than the good days because they force you to really focus on good things in order to find them.

So far today, these are the three best things that have happened to me:
  1. My son got an nice solid A in science for the previous nine weeks, when I thought he was going to get a B+.
  2. I got an email from the librarian at a nearby school, inviting me for a school visit in May.
  3. I took my laptop to the library to write (which, in itself, is a good thing, since I love the library and like to work there) and while I was working on a new scene, an idea just fell from the heavens that is going to make the story so much better in so many ways—it solves several plot problems, gives the setting a more solid grounding, and adds sparkle to the entire story.
After all that, how could my happiness not increase?

(Oh, and just so you know, I’m not dissing dental colleges. My dental student is very nice, very diligent, and very dedicated. The whole process takes a bit of patience, though—on his part and mine.)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007!

Although we usually don’t associate New Year’s Day with gift-giving (possibly because we’re broke from all that gift-giving at Christmas, or Hanukkah, or other major winter holiday), I always feel like January 1st gives me an incredible gift: the chance to climb out of whatever rut I’ve dug for myself the previous year and start pursuing life, liberty, and happiness with renewed vigor.

I usually make a list of goals (I prefer goals to resolutions—goals seem more proactive, while resolutions tend to be a list of “Thou shalt nots”) that goes on and on until it’s taller than I am, but this year I’m concentrating on one thing: treating writing like a full-time job. I figure if I do this, all my other goals (such as finishing my current novel-in-progress in a timely fashion) will fall into place.

I recently read Janet Evanovich’s How I Write, and while it didn’t tell me anything new and earth-shattering about writing, two things struck me. The first was near the beginning, when Janet talks about how hard she works at writing. She says: “While my writing may give the impression of being simple and effortless, it actually takes me hours to get it to appear that way.” Wow. I was so impressed because Janet Evanovich’s writing does seem effortless, like it must just flow from her fingers that way. Especially since she seems to have a new book out—in at least one of her series—every time I go to the bookstore. It heartens me to know that she has to work at it, just like I do.

The second thing came late in the book, when she talks about her normal writing day. She treats writing as a full-time job. She gets up at 5:00 a.m. and puts in an eight-hour day, breaking only for lunch and snacks. Which explains how she can put in all that work making her writing smooth and seamless, and still publish umpty-ump books every year.

Now, with two kids at home who are involved in every activity known to man, not to mention my husband, my dog, and my mother-in-law (who lives with us), eight hours per day would be a bit of a stretch for me on most days. But I can—and will—make writing my priority, working other things around my full-time writing job, rather than the frustrating way I’ve done it in the past, which was to tuck my writing in and around everyone else’s schedules. (Why do writers do this? Other people don’t operate this way. My dentist doesn’t say, “If I can get my daughter to bowling on time, I may be able to fill a cavity or two before I have to pick my son up from basketball practice, take the dog potty, and start dinner.”)

So that’s my 2007 goal. Hey, I may even print up time cards and make myself clock in and out. That would certainly make it feel like a real job.