News, News

I have some more fun news to share.

First, I’ve joined The Booking Biz as a client! I’m delighted to be part of their very professional team, as this will allow me to concentrate on my writing while they can attend to the details of any school visits from me. If you are a teacher or librarian, please contact them if you’d like me to visit your school.

Second, with the help of Kirsten Cappy at Curious City, and Websy Daisy, we are building a dedicated website for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. At that site, there will be opportunities for reader interaction, most especially involving a reader library game that is tons of fun. The site will go live soon, and you’ll see links here, so please stay

Third, I’ll be appearing at two bookstores in the Pacific Northwest soon. On June 9, I’m joining a cohort of fabulous authors at the University Bookstore in Bellevue, WA for a great book event: an “author extravaganza”. Then on June 11, I’ll be at Powells in Beaverton, OR at 2PM to discuss, read and sign. I hope you’ll join me!

And finally CHARMED CHILDREN is also a participant in this summer’s new program “Bunk Reads”, also an initiative of Curious City. Bunk Reads will be placing libraries in ten of Maine’s highest ranking camps.  Each book in the library will be identified by a sticker and will have postcards tucked inside. More details to come!

So please follow along to learn more about these and other happenings.

Getting To The Story Heart

Today, a blog post for writers: getting to the emotional heart of your writing. This is one exercise in a series of exercises I’ve got planned for my talk at our Montana spring SCBWI retreat in two weeks.

Readers want stories that touch them in a deep way. They want stories that resonate long after the reading is finished. To write such a story you must be willing to push outside your comfort zone. You must be willing to write from the heart even when it hurts; you must be willing to press beyond the familiar even when you’re uncertain.

You must be willing to write what you think you can’t.IMG_1169

Every story is ultimately about desire. The strength of your story directly reflects the strength of your desire – your desire to work on it, to dream about it, to find the heart of it, to love it. That desire is inside you, and it’s also inside your work, and you have to translate that desire so your reader feels it.

Here’s an exercise I’ve used to understand what drives me, what desires I have and therefore what desires will rise through my work and reach readers. Try this:

  • List your 3 most powerful childhood memories
  • Identify the 3 emotions key to each of those memories
  • List the 3 emotions that drive your protagonist in a work that’s important to you now.
  • Circle the strongest emotions from these b and c lists, paying attention to patterns.

For example, two repeating emotional patterns in my life (and thus in my work) have been betrayal, and fear of death. What are yours? Can you make certain that they appear in your story? That you can tackle them even when they hurt?

That’s the secret to writing fiction that moves people. Your characters need to express what is in your heart as a human, and as an artist. You are bringing something to life. You are the Blue Fairy. Yours is the only voice that can ever express what you feel. You’re not in competition, not even with yourself. You just have to believe that you can write to the heart of your story.

You have to try to write what you think you can’t.

My Summer 2016 Reading List: Middle Grade

What are you reading this summer? I’ve got a towering pile. Here’s a list of new books I’ve got on my long list of middle grade:

My Summer Middle Grade Reading List

In no particular order, the novels on my list are:

Sara Pennypacker, PAX – actually, I just finished this novel and loved it. A boy, a fox, separated by war. Will they be reunited?

Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee, MAYBE A FOX – I’m reading this one currently. Two sisters dealing with loss. Beautiful and heartbreaking.


Nanci Turner Steveson, SWING SIDEWAYS

Lauren Wolk, WOLF HOLLOW

Megan Frazer Blakemore, THE FIREFLY CODE






Lindsay Eagar, HOUR OF THE BEES

Do you have anything to add? (You might also like my winter middle grade reading list, which you can find here.)

Upcoming Author Appearances!

I’ll be making some author-type appearances in the month of April, and want to share that schedule with you!

appearancesOn April 7, I’ll be speaking to the Newcomers’ Club of Bozeman, MT, at noon, talking about writing and publishing in the children’s book world today.

April 16, 2PM, I’ll be speaking and signing books at the Barnes & Noble College Station, Texas.

April 20, 1:00-2:00 PM, I’ll be signing books at TLA (Texas Library Association) – Penguin will give away copies of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE to librarians!appearances

April 20, 4:00-5:20 PM, I’ll be participating in the YART Tea at TLA.

April 23, all day, I’ll be appearing at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Dallas.

April 24, 2PM, I’ll be with Kathi Appelt at BookPeople in Austin.

April 25, 9:40AM, I’ll be visiting St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin.

April 30, 1:00-4:00 PM, I’ll be at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, and work with teens who want to brush up on writing skills and hear about what writers do.

Please contact me or check the links for more details!


A discussion guide is now available!

I want to let teachers, librarians, book club organizers, and readers know that there is a discussion and project guide now available for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

The guide was created by the talented Deb Gonzales and contains questions to spur analysis, games, poetry features, and more.keep calm and guide on

I’m thrilled with the guide, and I hope you’ll have fun both reading and talking about THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

Download the guide here.

In other news, teachers and librarians may wish to check out my revamped “Speaking” page, with more details about school visits.

Keep calm and guide on!


blog tour

My “Rookskill” castle!

To celebrate today’s release of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE we’re on a blog tour!! And note the giveaways listed, too!

As of yesterday – March 14 – I will be visiting these blogs:


My Brain on Books–Guest post & Video #1–03/14/16

Word Spelunking–Top 10 List & Video #2–03/15/16

The Book Wars–Guest post & Video #3–03/16/16

Great Imaginations–Interview & Video #4–03/17/16

As They Grow Up–Giveaway & Video #5–03/18/16

Middle Grade Mafioso–Interview & Video #6–03/21/16

Pop! Goes the Reader–Guest post & video #7–03/22/16

MuggleNet–Interview & Video #8–03/23/16

YA Books Central–Giveaway & Video #9–03/24/16

The Reading Nook Review–Top 10 list & Video #10–03/25/16

Chapter By Chapter–Top 10 list & Video #11–03/28/16

The Hiding Spot–Giveaway & Video #12–03/29/16


Notice that each stop on the tour features a super-short video. There’s a little guessing game attached to the videos – one video for each charm on the chatelaine, one charm for each child.

I hope you’ll join me on the blog tour and in playing the game!

Two Weeks Until Launch

In THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, a chatelaine – a piece of jewelry worn at the waist during the 17th through 19th centuries (read more about chatelaines here) – plays a huge role. For each of twelve children, there is a charm on that chatelaine. I won’t reveal here what it does – that would be a spoiler!

Just for fun I made a series of twelve super-short videos, one for each charm. Most of the photographs in those videos were taken by me, on a trip to Scotland and England in 2015.

The videos will be featured in a book launch blog tour starting on March 14. It’s a game, it’s a challenge, and I hope you’ll follow along as we play. The first stop on the tour will be at My Brain on Books.

In the meantime, here’s a little opening teaser:


The Author “Thing”

In just over two weeks, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE will be out in the world.

Author book signing

Signing the first copies of THE CHARMED CHILDREN in my editor’s office.

This is a nerve-wracking time for an author. Will it sell? Will people like it? Will they even read it? This is my baby and I want it to be loved!

Now, in fairness, I’m on cloud nine over the wonderful welcome it’s received to date. Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly have all given it starred reviews. It’s a Junior Library Guild selection and a Spring 2016 Indies Next pick. But all these accolades are no guarantee that the novel will sell, although they do give it a big boost.

If you are a reader rather than a writer, you may not know the following. With the exception of a very, very few (as in, count them on the fingers of one hand) children’s authors make little money. Most readers are not aware that the advances authors receive are parceled out over months if not years, and those advances must be earned back before royalties kick in. That can take a long time, and many books never “earn out”. I know almost no authors who actually make a living from their writing, and those who do have published many books in order to see income. This is true regardless of a book’s quality.

author swag

A “real” copy and my pretty bookmarks.

Publishing houses today are struggling to maintain a positive bottom line, and so can’t afford to offer material support to most authors. They also can’t afford to keep books in print for the length of time it might take for an author or a book to attract an audience. The marketing and publicity of a book today falls equally if not entirely on the shoulders of an author, who really should be writing that next book, not tweeting or snapchatting about the upcoming release. My friends and I are responsible for our own websites, printing our own bookmarks, providing snacks at our signings, paying for our own travel.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I love what I do and would continue to write even if none of my work saw the light of day. I’m just putting this information on the table. It’s surprising to me when I meet people who think I’m getting rich off my writing, or that I have stacks of books to give away. Neither of these is true.

If you like an author and/or are interested in reading their book, please do get thee to a bookstore. If you can’t afford to buy the book, ask your local library to stock it. Pre-orders of books are especially important as those initial sales often tell the publisher whether the book will succeed. Honest Amazon reviews are also important, as they can boost a book’s profile.

And on that note – in the next couple of blog posts I’ll be announcing a blog tour about THE CHARMED CHILDREN, with a mystery guessing game in the form of short video teasers. I hope you’ll follow along and join in the fun!

If you do want to pre-order THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, you can order a personalized signed copy at my indie here, or find it on Amazon here.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your support!

Interview: Kirby Larson & AUDACITY JONES TO THE RESCUE!

I loved Kirby Larson’s writing as soon as I first “met” her through her Newbery honor-winning novel HATTIE BIG SKY. I’ve met her for real since then – and she’s a delightful person as well as an amazing author. I’m truly honored to have her today on the blog, talking about her newest book (an Amazon Best Middle Grade Book for February!), writing historical fiction, writing about animals, and more. You can read all about her and her books at her website.

Here’s Kirby:

First, please tell us a bit about your newest release, AUDACITY JONES TO THE RESCUE, a little summary and insight.

I had so much fun writing this book that it should be against the law! Audie came tapping on my shoulder one day, demanding attention. I set aside what I was working on to create 5 or so pages of character sketch/moodling, but had no idea where it was all going. Some years later, when I learned that it had been thought that a young relative of President Taft had been kidnapped in January 1910, fireworks went off in my imagination. The young girl, Dorothy, had not been kidnapped but by then my writer’s brain was working overtime: what if Dorothy had been kidnapped? Who would do it? Why? And didn’t it seem likely that a bookish orphan named Audacity Jones might just be a likely rescuer? I got to create over the top fun characters – including an exceedingly clever cat – and tell the story from multiple viewpoints – this has certainly been one of the liveliest writing experiences I’ve ever had.AUDACITY author Larson

I can’t wait to read it! Like AUDACITY, much, if not most, of what you write is historical. What appeals to you the most about writing historical fiction for young readers?

There are so many terrific stories from history, stories that haven’t been told because they’re about children/young adults, especially girls. I have found my passion in trying to share these stories in a such way that today’s readers find connections. I am so grateful to my publisher, Scholastic, for supporting my passion for historical fiction.

You also feature animals in your stories. I assume you have pets: names, species, and any amusing anecdotes? What is inspiring to you about the relationships between humans and animals?

In 2009, after having written two nonfiction picture books about animals with my dear friend Mary Nethery (The Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle); I decided I wanted to be owned by a dog! So we brought our first-ever dog, Winston, into our home. He is a tri-color Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; spoiled rotten. Winston herds me into my office every morning; if I’m not at work by 8:30, he panics.

Animals not only demonstrate huge capacities for love and loyalty, they also seem to bring out the best in people. That is what truly inspires me about them. I have also discovered from my novels Duke and Dash that writing about animals is another great way to connect kids with history.Audacity

One of my all-time favorite middle-grade characters is Hattie Brooks. HATTIE BIG SKY was hugely inspiring to me as I was drafting my first novel. Now that you’ve authored a number of successful and beautifully crafted books, does it feel any easier? What’s changed for you in terms of process and/or inspiration?

Thank you so much for that lovely compliment—it’s a huge one coming from the acclaimed author of the wonderful The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle!


That Hattie – she has so many friends all over the world. I think she is the perfect example of how a flawed character gets into a reader’s heart – the reader is horrified at the choices the character makes and has to keep reading to find out how the character is ever going to get out of such a pickle!

You ask a great question about what has changed for me in terms of process and/or inspiration. That made me stop and think. After some pondering, I came to this notion: I suspect is that very little has changed for me – I still sweat over first drafts, I rarely outline, I make every mistake in the book – but now I have the confidence that I can finish. I know I feel like returning the advance midway through each first draft; I know I can’t believe how much work there is to do when I dive in to revise; I struggle with comparing my work to other writers’. That stuff will likely never change! What has changed is the deep-down confidence that I can write another book.audacity

I know you’re working on a sequel to AUDACITY. Please tell us about that.

I just hit send over the weekend! I don’t want to give too much away but in this adventure, Audie lends a hand to the greatest magician in the world: Harry Houdini.

Oh, I love Houdini! I can’t wait! Are there any more books coming soon? And…are you working on anything you’d like to share?

The third in the WWII/Dogs series, Liberty, is coming out in September of 2016. It’s set in New Orleans and tells the story of how a boy with polio saves a stray dog. There’ll be one more book in that series; it’s just sketches at this point. Trust me: I am working away! I have story ideas to last me till I’m 90!

Thanks so much for this interview, Janet! It was kind of you to take time out from your busy schedule to host me here.

It’s truly my pleasure, Kirby!

Books for Winter 2016: Middle Grade

Are you searching for something new for your middle grade readers? Here are a few just out or upcoming books, in graphic format:

A selection of middle grade books launching between 1/1/16 and 4/1/16

Here’s a list of the books by author and title:


Dori Hillestad Butler, THE GHOST IN THE TREE HOUSE, (Haunted Library #7) Grosset & Dunlap

Alison Cherry, THE CLASSY CROOKS CLUB, Simon & Schuster

Leslie Connor, ALL RISE for the HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK, Harpercollins

KA Holt, RED MOON RISING, Simon & Schuster


Kristen Kittscher, THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE, Harper Children’s

Kirby Larson, AUDACITY JONES TO THE RESCUE, Scholastic

Jen Malone, YOU’RE INVITED TOO, Simon & Schuster

Katherine Marsh, THE DOOR BY THE STAIRCASE, Disney

Denise Lewis Patrick, NO ORDINARY SOUND, American Girl

Karen Rivers, THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME, Algonquin

Lisa Schroeder, THE GIRL IN THE TOWER, Henry Holt



Do you have anything you’d like to add? Please share!