Sunlight filtered through the trees in our backyard, casting shadows on the grass, while our one-year-old African Sulcata tortoise, Leo, enjoyed a quiet afternoon romping in a heap of fallen leaves. With my lawn chair propped beside him, I typically would read my book (right now it’s The Doll People, by Ann Martin), and listen to the sound of his shuffling little feet crunching on bark and dried leaves. But on this particular day, two weeks ago, I was visiting with a friend and not paying much attention to little Leo.

Oh, boy. Note to self: NEVER have an important conversation with a friend while watching a tortoise.

The noise of crunching leaves stopped. I promise. Really. Only like for, two-to-three minutes. Or so. Give or take. And he was gone. Forever.

My ten-year-old boy cried. I was heartbroken. What had I done?

Frantically, I searched our backyard, front yard, neighbor’s yards, nearby ponds, under shrubbery, pretty much EVERYWHERE I could look; for 5 hours. I went to Animal Control and filled out a missing tortoise application. Little Leo (full name Leonard Da Vinci), has his own missing animal id number. But he’s never come back home.

So today, two weeks later, I’m sitting here wondering how Leo is doing. Did he burrow under a tree? Is he hiding? Did he make new friends somewhere and having a party? Is he okay? I hope so. I truly do.

Today I’m melancholy when I look at the empty tortoise box. And not only that, I’m bummed about my writing life, too. I entered a writing contest and didn’t win. And the feedback I received was that my query letter for my MG novel wasn’t up to par. If that were true, I’d fix it. Truly, I would. Like my dad always says, “In a New York minute.” But I’ve received many requests from agents for that query letter. I guess it was only one contest and one person’s opinion, but it really was a BUMMER.

Maybe I’m just missing Leo. If anyone spots a cereal-bowl-sized African Sulcata tortoise roaming the plains of Southern Idaho, please let me know. We’d be so happy to see our friend again.


Does such a thing even exist for a first time novelist?

It does.

But the occurrence is so rare, like being struck by lightening and knocking, not your socks off, but your rubber soled boots to shreds and living to see another day. That’s how rare it is. And that actually happened to a young man from Georgia recently. Blown right out of his boots!

Who wants to be struck with the rare occurrence of having your first novel accepted without ever NEVER EVER being rejected?

Did you just leap out of your seat and holler, ME, ME? I certainly did.

I met a super nice young woman at a SCBWI conference two years ago who did just that. She never received a rejection letter. And no, she wasn’t a famous actor or any such thing. She happened to be a gifted writer who happened to know the right people in publishing. She even received The Edgar Allen Poe Award (or the Edgars) for the best mystery fiction, nonfiction, television, film or theater published or produced the year before. A huge honor! And on top of everything she was very humble about it.


I got all woozy imagining how it’d feel.

But coming back down to reality, this rare and wonderful occurrence is not the norm for most writers. Let’s face facts, rejection letters are trophies for many successful writers. It’s the rite of passage.

So I have only one question. How many more “trophies” will I be honored with before my first book is published?

Honestly, just got a little woozy thinking about that, too. ;-)


Something about summer sunshine, sparkling water and a wide blue sky makes me happy. But not today.

Today I ate too many cookies. Anytime I weigh myself and see how I’ve lost a few pounds, I immediately want to celebrate. Celebrate by eating cookies, of course. Any kind of cookie. Oatmeal, shortbread, sprinkled, oh and that powdered sugar cookie (think it’s called Mexican Wedding), and especially most of all…chocolate chip.

My summer break, so far, is similar to my cookie intake. Too much of a good thing can make one sick.

Here is what I mean: My manuscript is complete and off with the agents, so I’ve been celebrating. A lot. Went to visit my brother in Vegas, family in San Diego, had a wedding anniversary dinner, graduation party, had a slumber/pool party for my kiddo. And mind you, all of this “celebrating” happened in a span of only ONE week.

Anybody want a cookie?


Last summer my son and I stayed in our little travel trailer nestled in the hidden valley of Escondido. Papa and Grammie and all the cousins live there. There’s a pool, jacuzzi and lots of palm trees. And last year’s adventure included a trip to Disneyland (for research, you know, for my book) :-)

This summer we hope to relax by the pool. I have a summer reading list that is growing everyday. Here’s where I’m at so far in middle grade:



THE RIVERMAN by, Aaron Starmer

ALMOST HOME by, Joan Bauer

And in young adult and adult:



And in between all this fun reading, I hope to do a little writing, spend time with family, and dine at some of my favorite restaurants.

What summer plans await you?



One afternoon a few weeks ago I was rushing on a deadline with my editor. As I reviewed the manuscript, what felt like the millionth time, the words on the screen slurred. “NO!” I thought. “Not now.”

My computer was crashing.

Immediately, I saved my work. And as an email attachment, I sent it back to myself.

For awhile my longtime trusty computer had been on the fritz. Poor guy. I think of it as a HIM. I don’t know why. Anyway, I had to finish the manuscript to send to my editor and then to a few agents who had agreed to review the revisions.

I turned the computer off and then restarted it several times. And working page by page, saving the work, emailing it to myself, I was able to finish it!

Now, the story is complete and off with the agents. And today I’m getting a new computer. I’ll miss the old one, but my hubby says this one will be just like the old one. We’ll see.

That’s life, isn’t it? Always out with the old and in with the new. Maybe this is the beginning of many new things–new experiences.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?


In the cool of this Saturday evening, the sun now diminished to hues of gold and red, I share a few profound thoughts about how my family feels about me being a writer.

All right. Maybe not so profound, but at least honest.

I’ll interview my ten-year-old son first.

Here we go. The following will be his actual responses to my questions.

Me: Son, what do you think about your mom being a writer?

Him: Um, I think it’s weird cuz I hate writing.

Me: Really? Why do you hate writing?

Him: I like Star Wars.

Me: What does that have to do with writing?

Him: The original Star Wars was a book. That was worth writing. But write this part down Mom, okay? Are you writing this?

Me: Yes.

Him: Star Wars books aren’t as accurate as the movies.

Me: All right. Thanks for answering my questions. I’ll go ask your dad.

(Now, standing in front of my hubby in the kitchen.)

Dear, how do you feel about me being a writer?

Him: Proud.

Me: That’s it? Anything else?

Him: Happy? I don’t know. What do you want me to say?

Me: This is not helpful. Never mind.

Him: No really, I love you’re a writer.

Me: (Smiles endearingly.)


How about you? How does your family feel about your writing?


Along with the rest of you, I’m looking ahead at the new year wondering what’s next?

At this point, my middle grade novel has been cut into tiny pieces and in the process of being restitched with the thread of a new plotline. Happily, I have an editor working with me, Donna Cook. She’s guiding me through these rough patches and I’m hoping, really hoping that this time things will be different.

A few agents have been kind enough to wait and see the new revisions, once they’re done, and I’m ready to get to work!

What’s next for you? Anything exciting in the making?

I guess, half the fun is in the mystery of the waiting. And that’s one thing I’ve had lots of practice doing — waiting.


Ah, Richard Peck!

He has won numerous awards including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature. My favorite book, A YEAR DOWN YONDER, was named the Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, an ALA Notable Book, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Whew! No wonder I love that book so much.

I have gleamed a treasure of writing insights from this novel, but what stands out the most is how Mr. Peck uses humor in the telling of his stories.

And A YEAR DOWN YONDER is drop-down hilariously funny. That teaches me to write with sincerity, to write without getting caught up in the words instead of the content, at least for the first draft and first few rewrites.

He writes from his heart and it comes off genuine. That’s what I hope to do. By doing this it makes me (the reader) feel like I know his characters personally. That’s a connection that is priceless.

I saw an interview with Richard Peck and Lin Oliver from an SCBWI Master Class, and he readily confessed that the most difficult chapter he writes is the first. In fact, he says that most times he just throws the first chapter out all together.

I wondered if I was brave enough to make such a bold move, and after much hesitation – I finally did it. That was the best thing I could do for my story.

So thank you, Mr. Richard Peck. And say hi to Grandma Dowdel for me!


I have a confession to make. And it’s probably no surprise that as a children’s book writer I am enamored with Newbery Award winning authors. Not only do I read their books, I study them, I write little notes in the margins, I pour over them, I breathe them — hoping their beautiful prose will wash over me and make me the kind of writer I dream to become.

And so, for the next week, I will compose a series about five Newbery Medal authors — Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, Kate Di Camillo, Kevin Henkes and Rebecca Stead. I’ll share what I’ve learned from each of them, how they’ve helped me to grow, and what spectacular insights I’ve drawn from studying their individual styles.

I’ll begin with Sharon Creech. She’s a prolific author who won the Newbery Medal for her heartwarming tale, WALK TWO MOONS. She is also the recipient of the Newbery Honor Book THE WANDERER.

I just finished reading her new book, THE BOY ON THE PORCH, and right away I noted that just as she does in WALK TWO MOONS, her first chapters start with a strong narrative voice and then they are immediately followed by compelling dialogue that draws the reader into an artfully crafted story.

Also, she always interjects vivid descriptions of the main character’s surroundings, what they see, hear, smell and feel. As the main character takes it all in, she includes not only what that character feels but their personal opinions about what they are experiencing in that particular scene. By doing this she takes us (the ready and willing reader) by the hand and by then we are reading eagerly, wanting to know what happens next.

But she doesn’t stop there. Sharon Creech creates friction from the beginning, and lots of it, little obstacles that get in the way of what the main character wants. And then she really has us (willing readers) when she uses layers of deep heart-tugging insights about the main character’s plight, reeling us in to know even more about the main character.

And all the while, Ms. Creech is describing scenes and creating memorable dialogue between fun and interesting people, and we keep reading, we keep wanting more.

I have learned these wonderful techniques from Sharon Creech, and I try to implement her award winning style in my own writing, but as with any craft it takes practice — lots and lots of it, too.

Thank you Sharon Creech. Huzza, huzza! 



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