2018: Passion and Grace

Several writer-friends have referenced finding a Word of the Year; a word that somehow speaks to them and that they use as a keystone to the new year. They choose words like Growth, Embrace, Center; words that can be applied to resolutions, personal growth, work goals, and more.

I love this idea, and immediately began brainstorming words. Of course being me, I can’t seem to narrow it down to just one.

I thought first of the word grace, as it is one of my favorites. It’s interesting that this word pulls me, because when I actually look it up the definition doesn’t really match my intention. But I love it just the same. Strictly speaking, grace is defined as follows:

It isn’t until we get to the 8th meaning that I even get close: “The quality of state of being considerate or thoughtful.” It is this quality that calls to me, and that I strive to embody. To go through life with grace to me means to be gracious in the face of setbacks and victories, to take life with a measure of equilibrium and perspective.

It has been hard, lately, to keep equilibrium and perspective in place. It has been hard not to let my anger calcify into cynicism, instead of letting it burn up in a clean bright flame of activism. It has been seriously hard to live with grace. So that’s one of my words for 2018.

But I can never narrow things down (seriously, don’t ever ask me for my top-ten books…it’s painful), so one word wasn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. I need something more to drive me through this year. I came up with passion.

Passion is another one where the definition doesn’t necessarily match up with my intentions. Here is the formal definition:

I’m not feeling particularly religious, or much like I need additional suffering. But “a strong liking or desire for or devotion” to something? That’s more like it. I believe that I need to nurture a passion — a strong and deeply committed devotion — for the for the things that matter in my life. A passion for the books I’m writing? A passion for the causes I champion? A passion for creating my best self, family, community, country, and world I possibly can? Heck yeah. Sign me up.

So there you have it: grace and passion. These words will guide me as I try to balance the trifecta of priorities in my life: writing, family, and activism. I will try to use them to steer me toward good choices. Check back this time next year and I’ll tell you how it goes.


365 Days Later: #SustainedOutrage and Resistance

This day, one year ago, was a terrible one, and I wrote about it here. It was terrible having to face my children and somehow explain that yes, everything we valued and held dear was not valued in our country. And it was terrible knowing how many people, around the country and around the world, were waking up afraid. I cried about as hard as I ever have on election night 2016, and kept crying on and off for weeks and even months beyond. Honestly, I was like my own little swampy ecosystem…I’m lucky I didn’t grow moss.

Wet dog doesn’t want to be wet

But my goal from that day forward was #SustainedOutrage. The thought was that I couldn’t afford to get complacent, or to sink into despair. Neither option is viable. Complacency, I knew, is quite possible when living with all the privilege I have, being white and middle class. And despair was a hound dog on my back, hot breath in my ear, telling me that nothing would make a difference, so why bother. So…#SustainedOutrage. And when I felt overwhelmed, either by the terrible things that were happening or by the sheer malicious cruelty I was seeing demonstrated by those in power, I reminded myself of my very simple mantra:

Help the most vulnerable. Work toward a better future.

Simple, right?

To me this meant that I could donate money to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, write postcards via Any Refugee, or donate books to LGBTQ-friendly youth groups or take to the streets to protest the Muslim ban.

It also meant getting involved with Sister District and Flippable — organizations that sprung into existence to lead the fight for electoral change — as well as Everytown for Gun Safety and Emily’s List. It also meant reading books and articles by Ta-Nehesi Coates and Nancy Isenberg and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  and others, so that I could better understand the country I live in.










I kept a list, so I would be accountable. I kept a list so that if my grandkids ever asked “what did you DO when all this terrible stuff was happening?” I would be able to show them. I kept a list because I needed to remind myself to keep the faith.

I didn’t always succeed. Some days I didn’t take action. Often I forgot to write it down then wouldn’t be able to remember after. For a few weeks straight this summer I lost track of things. I was still trying to stay engaged but I was flagging, losing energy, growing weary. Luckily, this is a long race, with plenty of runners. Early in the year, I read a blog post that referred to a choir. In a choir, everyone needs to breathe, everyone needs to pause and inhale, but there are enough of us that we carry each other, we sing while our neighbors breathe, and we breathe when they are singing, and that way the song continues, strong as ever. I needed to breathe.

This past weekend I was at KidlitCon, and I heard the amazing author Sandra Uwiringiyimana speak about her book, How Dare the Sun Rise. Sandra is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but had to flee due to the conflict. What struck me afterward about her talk, (which was amazing and terrifying in so many ways and I cannot WAIT to read her book!), was when she said that yes, she grew up during a war, but there was joy, there was laughter, there were parties and weddings. She said, “I had a wonderful childhood in Congo, but I never see that part of my country in the news or in books.”

And it resonated, because I realized that #SustainedOutrage did not mean less joy; that I didn’t try to minimize the laughter and limit the fun so that I could stay angry. Enjoying life does not equal complacency, it equals resilience. Less joy serves no one.



So one year later, we are still here. In some ways this year has been far worse that even my over-active imagination feared. The disrespect given to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, the hatred and suspicion aimed at our Muslim family and friends, the emboldened racism hurting our communities of color, the blatant cronyism and corporate greed plaguing everything from our education to our environment…it’s bad, friends. It’s really bad.

But we are still here. And we are still fighting.

So I’ll keep up with my #SustainedOutrage for another year. I’ll call my local reps to support automatic voter registration. I’ll write postcards to support candidates in Virginia and other purple states. I’ll donate money. I’ll write books that try to make a difference. What will you do with the next 365 days? How will you keep fighting? Because I still believe that in the long run, love trumps hate.

The #PubforPR Auction is LIVE and a matching donation

Hi friends!

A reminder that the #PubforPR auction is LIVE. And because I am enraged over where we are as a country, I will match the winning bid on my items with a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety.(And SuperAgent Marietta Zacker will join me in matching the donation on our combined item!)

There are two items of mine in the auction:

So please bid generously, and I don’t mean only on my items. There are hundreds of incredible prizes and the money is desperately needed.

On days like today, I have to remember my mantra: Help the most vulnerable. Work toward a better future. By supporting Puerto Rico and helping the advocates at Everytown do what they do, I will do both.

One foot in front of the other, friends. It’s all we can do.

#PubforPR Auction, or How to Help Puerto Rico When Everything is Terrible

The amazing writer Anne Lamott once described donating money as the drive-by way of feeling better fast. And it’s true…when I have no time, and cannot fathom what to do, donating even a small amount to a classroom or local nonprofit can make me feel better.

But right now in Puerto Rico, the amount of help needed feels overwhelming, and no matter what I give, it doesn’t feel like enough.

That’s why I was so grateful when a group of amazing publishing folks let me jump in and help them with an ENORMOUS auction they’re putting together. So many authors, agents, editors, and illustrators have connections to Puerto Rico, and their worries and fears for their loved ones propelled them to action. And like most good deeds, this one has snowballed into something amazing.

Usually entering data in a spreadsheet or checking links on a website doesn’t thrill me, but in this case it really did. Because the outpouring of generosity, the truly tremendous number of high-level editors, literary agents, bestselling authors, and others who desperately want to give, to donate, to help…well, it is like balm to my soul.

So for the past several days I’ve been watching this thing grow, and now it’s happening. And I’m here to say, IT’S FREAKING AWESOME.

  • If you’re an aspiring writer or illustrator, you can bid on one-on-one editor or agent phone calls, full manuscript critiques and even a free pass into the editorial meeting at a big publishing house
  • If you’re a teacher or educator you can bid on classroom sets of signed books and Skype visits with beloved authors
  • If you’re an author and need publicity help or headshots you can bid on professional photographs or swag design
  • If you’re a mega-fan of some of today’s hottest Young Adult authors you can win signed books and swag
  • And much, much more!

There are literally over 250 prizes that range from the opportunity to be flown to New York to meet with an entire literary agency, to original artwork by award-winning artists, to hundreds of chances to get professional feedback on your writing.

And all of it directly benefits Puerto Rico. After carefully researching and vetting different charities, the donations will go to Unidos por Puerto Rico and ConPRmetidos. No money comes to us, but instead you donate directly and forward receipt of donation to claim your prize. There’s even a special raffle for anyone who wants to donate without bidding, (or donate even if they get outbid).

Read all about the #PubforPR auction here, and bookmark your favorite items so you can be ready to bid starting tomorrow. And please help spread the word…the more people share and support and bid and donate, the more help goes to those who so desperately need it.

So please, share widely with your friends, family, colleagues, and community. And let’s bring the power of storytelling together for Puerto Rico, where they so desperately need a happier ending.



P.S. Here’s a video by the amazing Lily Meade, telling you all about it:

Upcoming Events and Scheduling School Visits

Hello, blog and website friends, and forgive my lack of information on bookish events. I’ve been in the process of updating my website for…well, longer than I intended, and the result is that events and other news have gotten short shrift.

SO! In an attempt to rectify that fact, (even as we finalize the updated website!) I am listing my next few bookstore and conference events below!

In addition, I’ll remind all teachers, librarians, and other educators that I am now booking school visits, which are tremendously fun for me and the hundreds and hundreds of kids who get to hear about writing, revision, rejection, new books, and my cats. Please take a look here for more information.


Fun fact: this school had just done a production of The Little Mermaid, and the coral was still in the background. I may have sung a few bars of Under the Sea.

School visits usually include lunch with a select group of kids! Talking with your mouth full totally allowed.


If you want to see me in a bookstore or conference, here is a list of my next few events. I will update as I add more!

I will be moderating a rather spectacular lineup of middle grade authors at Trident, and you can find out more about them and the event here.

I will be joining debut author Darcey Rosenblatt to talk about what makes a story for kids. More information here.


I am super-delighted to be joining authors Jen Swann Downey and Jordan Sonnenblick to talk about tackling tough subjects with humor at this amazing conference. More information and registration here.


Occasionally People Can Be Wonderful

I need to tell a story about a horrible thing that led to a lovely thing.

I recently participated in an online auction called Authors For Grenfell, which was created to raise funds for the victims of the horrible fire in London. One of the items available to bid on was the chance to name a character in Philip Pullman’s new book, the Book of Dust 2.Needless to say, bidding was fierce. And then this happened.

Over 500 people added to James’s bid — not for themselves — but to add money to the bid from a teacher who wanted to name a character Nur Huda el-Wahabi, for an ex-pupil who died in the fire.
The final amount raised, just by this one item, was over £32,000. Nur Huda will live forever in the magical world of Mr. Pullman, and countless others who lost everything will benefit from this generosity.
From the ashes, good things rise…


P.S. The auction is over, but you can still donate to victims of the fire, if you wish. British Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund

Signed Books!

Hey friends! My new book is out in the world, and I’m delighted and hoping it flies far! Also in the world, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, now in convenient portable paperback! Huzzah!

To celebrate I went into town yesterday to get iced coffee, but walked by an antique/thrift shop that happened to have a set of kraken bookends on display. Reader, I bought them.

Awesome, right? I KNOW.

Anyway, thank you to all the under-the-cover-with-a-flashlight readers, book-lovers, educators, word ninjas, writers-in-training, and others who help celebrate the arrival of new books. If anyone wants a signed copy of THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORY SOMEDAY and lives locally, come on by! And if you’re not local, or can’t make it this Saturday, either call Jabberwocky and they will have me personalize a book and they can ship it, or contact me directly to get a snazzy personalized bookplate!


A New Book! This Would Make A Good Story Someday is coming

It’s that exciting and sometimes slightly nausea-inducing moment when I realize that something that I made up while sitting alone in my office in cat-hair-covered yoga pants is actually going to go out into the world with my name on it!

Coming to bookstores, libraries, and bookshelves near you (I hope) is my newest book for nine-to-twelve-year-olds (Ish. My fifteen-year-old son informed me he thinks it’s my best book so far, so I guess older readers might like it too). This Would Make a Good Story Someday is the story of Sara Johnston-Fischer, her two moms, her younger sister Ladybug, and her older sister Laurel, and their summer travels on a cross-country train trip. But of course that’s not all it’s about.
It’s about, in no particular order:
  • Learning Latin
  • Learning to open your mind
  • Computer safety
  • Grand Canyon safety
  • Duck safety
  • Elvis Presley
  • Dying
  • Living
  • Texans
  • Writer’s block
  • Hair dye
  • Friendship
  • Sisters
  • The environment
  • Snoring
  • Writing
  • Roman centurions
  • Coffee
  • Family
  • What makes a good story
I’ll be honest with you. This was a hard book to write, and  in some ways a hard book to celebrate. The writing of it was hard for no particularly good reason. As I talked about on the wonderful Mr. Schu’s blog, I struggled mightily to find the core of this story. I don’t know why — it’s not that different from my other books — but for whatever reason I wrote in circles for months before finally unlocking Sara’s story. Still, I got there eventually, and wound up pretty delighted with the final product.
But now here we are, in the spring of 2017, and my mind isn’t really on book celebrations. There are hard conversations about really important things — health, equality, justice — happening all around us, and I’m spending a lot of time thinking, writing, and acting to support the values I believe in. With all of that in the background, it’s hard to feel like shouting from the rooftop “HEY YOU BUY MY BOOK!!”
But here’s the thing I believe. Stories ARE worth celebrating. Stories are how we connect with each other, how, as it’s been famously said, we find windows into other lives, mirrors that reflect our own lives, and doorways to step through and experience a world beyond our reckoning. Stories. Matter.
I write silly books, and this one is no different. There are shenanigans and mishaps and some hopefully amusing physical humor (at least I amused myself writing it, which is always the goal, to be honest).
I hope readers find their way to this book and laugh and roll their eyes and cringe at Sara and her ridiculous family. But I hope they also recognize that they are asking some of the same questions that we are all asking these days, and while there are no easy answers, talking always trumps silence.  I hope readers laugh at the scene through the windows of this book, but also step through the doorway and share Sara’s life.
So go ahead. Get yourself to your local independent bookstore, or a Barnes & Noble, or even the big online behemoth, and see if you think it’s a good story. I certainly hope you will!
Read on,

Marching. And What Comes After

This is a hard day.

I am frightened for the most vulnerable among us, for our whole country, for our foreign relations, and honestly, for our whole planet. I am desolate at the end of the Obama era, which was not perfect, but which filled me with a pride in my country and a hope for the future that I had never felt as an American. It’s not helping that the song from the Hamilton musical, One Last Time, is playing in my head, as though on endless repeat.


The cast of Hamilton with President Obama. Photo courtesy of: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Obama_greets_the_cast_and_crew_of_Hamilton_musical,_2015.jpg

It is easy to cry these days, and hard to do much else.

But I am incredibly privileged, with those privileges comes work. I have books to write, and food to cook. I have teenagers to parent and Congresspeople to call. I have signs to make and letters to write and stories to read and understand and share. There is so much to be done, and I’m tired already, but not as tired as so many people who have done so much more.

Like hundreds of thousands of others, I’m planning to march in one of the six hundred Women’s Marches this Saturday. I have friends who think this is a waste of time, that this is a feel-good indulgence of going through the motions. Who think that nothing will change.

They’re right, of course, and totally wrong. It will feel good. It will feel great to be among so many like-minded people, to get energy from the group and share a feeling that I am not alone. And it won’t make a difference, if by that we mean the new administration will not look at the million women, marching all through this country and around the world, and say, “Wow, they really mean it. I guess we’d better ensure quality healthcare and equal rights.”

File:The Obamas and the Bushes continue across the bridge.jpg

photo courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Obamas_and_the_Bushes_continue_across_the_bridge.jpg

Of course not. But action begets action, and voices amplify each other, and we are #StrongerTogether.

For anyone, really almost anywhere, who is reading this and wants to join a march, please do check out this website: https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters — there are marches happening all over, and it is very easy to plug into one. If you can’t march due to health, work, or family commitments, but really want to be a part of it, consider making a sign that another local marcher could carry or share. Or donate to support the marchers. Here are a bunch of other ideas: http://www.upworthy.com/thousands-will-be-in-dc-to-stand-with-women-heres-how-to-stand-with-them-from-home

Basically, if you want to feel like you’re a part of this movement, there are ways to do so, even if you can’t attend.

But afterwards, then what?

The energy, the signs, the chanting, the singing…it will all end, and then what?

Then we get back to work. As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve committed to at least one act per day until the 2020 presidential election: an act of resistance, an act of activism, an act of gratitude or generosity. Sometimes my act can take a few hours, if I’m researching something for a new organization that’s working on political change. Sometimes my act can take 45 seconds, as I call Senators Warren and Markey and thank them for supporting an issue that matters to me. Sometimes my act is curling up and reading something that will open my mind and help me understand how best to serve.

I will do this Every. Single. Day. Because this is the job of citizen, and it’s one I’ve been phoning in for far too long.

So what do we do next?

STEP ONE: Well, I’d recommend starting by reading this:


It’s a guide written by former Congressional staffers who experienced the challenges of a small, well-organized, disruptive group who stood up against a government agenda. The punch line? The small group was the Tea Party, and the agenda was the progressive one that the Democrats hoped to enact. But the learning is there — like it or not, they were successful.

STEP TWO: Next, I would sign up for one or two of the hugely useful action email lists that have come into existence. These are well-vetted and thoughtful actions are easy to do. And because they come to you (in your inbox or Facebook page), it’s easy to keep abreast. It can be overwhelming — the bad news comes in so fast, and it can be hard to know where to start. But these offer a way to take a concrete step.

Here are a few:

 If you are on Facebook, there are some excellent groups doing day-to-day, activist work. Many of them are “secret” groups, meaning you can’t search for them. But if you are unable to link up with any leave a message in the comments and I will try to share some options.
Here’s a hint: don’t try to do everything. But try to do something. And take a little time to figure out what the most effective “something” might be.
  • Got time but no money? Maybe look for a place to volunteer to tutor English to recently arrived refugees, or mentor a kid.
  • Got money but no time? Maybe set up a recurring donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, or another organization that will be greatly needed.
  • Live in a “blue bubble” — a phrase used to describe very liberal enclaves, where Democrats are consistently in office? Keep an eye on Sisterdistrict and flippable and others who will be working to engage voters across districts and states.
  • Hate making phone calls? Tough. Do it anyway, because by all accounts, they really do matter, and honestly, I’m here to tell you it’s not that bad. Even if you mumble and stutter and feel like a fool, it will be over in a minute and you will be heard. Here’s a great link on how to deal with making political phone calls if you have social anxiety: http://echothroughthefog.cordeliadillon.com/post/153393286626/how-to-call-your-reps-when-you-have-social-anxiety
STEP THREE: Take some time to educate yourself, and try to help start a dialogue that will educate others. How do you do this? Well, I know I’m biased, but I’d start by reading (of course).
Congressman John Lewis’s account of the Civil Rights movement, Walking With the Wind, is incredible. So is Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Also the incredible young adult novel All-American Boys. Still on my to-read list is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America. Below are some reading lists with good suggestions.
Suggest some of these in book club, or for a family read. Download the audiobook and make it your commute. See if your local library or adult education program has any events that center on race, class, politics, privilege, or other important subjects. Actually GO to these events, even if you’re uncomfortable — you don’t have to speak up. In fact sometimes it’s better just to listen.
Another critical education task: educate yourself, your kids, your colleagues and your family about how to spot fake news. Both the left-wing media and the right-wing media are guilty of click-bait headlines and false statistics that provoke outrage without the facts.
Do better. Do better by committing to pay for content — journalists need to get paid, and in order for reputable media to pay them, they need subscribers. So consider subscribing to the New York Times, the Washingon Post, The Atlantic, and others. Then, do better by learning about fake news. Believe it or not, some of the best journalism coming out these days is in Teen Vogue. Yes, as in a fashion magazine for teens. But here’s a great article they had on learning to spot fake news. (And yes, I am a paid subscriber!)
Also, this graphic is useful — share it widely. You may disagree with some of her placements; that’s fine. Just consider it a starting point for a research-based conversation, not a screaming match.

Courtesy of Vanessa Otero 2016 http://www.facebook.com/vanessa.otero.9619/posts/10155006385626062

STEP FOUR: Remember we are playing the long game. My mantra, when things feel overwhelming, is simple: Help the most vulnerable. Work toward a better future. When I’m spinning my wheels, that’s what I return to. Because at the end of the day, change will happen. It always does. But what form that change takes is up to us.

Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126015850@N02/15128683288

Dark Times, and Turning Back Toward the Light

It’s the shortest day, today, which always feels important. One of my favorite poems in the world, by Susan Cooper, begins:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.*

Of course there are twenty-four hours today (duh!), but here in the northern hemisphere we will have the least amount of daylight of the whole year, barely nine hours. The rest of the twenty-four will be dim and dreary and void of sunlight.

It’s a hard day, a hard time of year, and this year, more than ever. Times seem dark indeed, when terror attacks rock Germany, when people are murdered in Turkey, when thousands die in Aleppo, when here at home, our nation has failed to live up to what we hope and dream it will be. Dark times indeed.

The winter solstice is the first official day of winter, something that often feels a little sarcastic in New England, when we’ve been shoveling snow for weeks and watching our hair freeze if we go out with it wet. It can seem like winter has already been here too long, and will last forever.

But here’s the thing: I LOVE the winter solstice. I love the shortest day, the day I wake up over an hour before the sun rises, and practice yoga and get my kids ready for school in the murky dimness.

Because the NEXT day….well. We turn back toward the sun, that’s what happens. Minute by minute, in increments too small to notice right away, the days get longer. They might be frigid, and we might get buffeted with blizzard conditions that chill us to our core, but regardless, the sun is returning.

Tomorrow, we will be turning back toward the light, and what we each choose to do with those hours and minutes of sunlight is up to us.

Welcome to winter, fellow-Northern-Hemisphere-dwellers! And as we move through these dark days, let’s all remember that the light will return. The real question is what we will do with ourselves in the meantime. Personally, I don’t plan to wait. I’ll be doing everything I can think of to bring sunshine into our world. Hope you join me.


*This poem is read every year at a wonderful play called Christmas Revels, and in fact you can buy notecards with the poem here