Existential crisis: a time when one questions whether their life has value, and whether that value transcends life itself.

About six weeks ago I contracted a bacterial infection that landed me in the hospital for eight days with another five weeks of serious follow-up. During the early, medically-induced-spacy hours of this trial, I honestly thought I might die. It was for me an existential moment.

I had plans. I had goals. Suddenly, none of them mattered. When I got home from the hospital, nothing mattered. I didn’t have the strength to do those mundane things to which I hadn’t ever given a second thought – laundry, bed-making, even tooth-brushing were impossible chores. I couldn’t focus long enough to read a page, much less a book. I could hardly climb the stairs, much less take a walk. My appetite was gone in the face of heavy doses of medication.

Ironically, right before this illness, I faced a different kind of crisis moment, when the manuscript I had worked on for a year (and a story I had loved for years before that) fell apart in a heap of “not working.” My editor and I decided it had to be shelved. This, too, was existential. What would happen to my career? To my commitment to my publisher? Where would I go next? Was I at the end of my writing life?

I’m happy to say that I’ve returned to about eighty percent of normal, at least physically. Emotionally is another matter. Every decision, now, is made in the recognition of my own mortality and the question of whether what I do is transcendent and adds value, or not.

And even more fortunately, I’m not only on a road to physical recovery, but I’m also at work on a new manuscript about which I’m deeply excited (and Rookskill Castle fans will be happy to know is a companion novel) and which has my editor’s blessing.

That these events, the illness and the writing derailment, coincided added to their weight. And that adds to my consideration of value, and whether I am able to transcend my own existence and create something – or leave something behind – or act in such a manner in every daily encounter – that is meaningful and adds value, even in the smallest of ways.

That’s the question that I’ll ponder every morning I wake up from now on.



Pantser, Revised

If you know me at all well, you already know that I’m an avowed pantser. (If you don’t know me, or don’t know what a pantser is, it’s a writer who “writes by the seat of her pants”, i.e., organically.) I hate outlines and I love spontaneity. I love the open-ended response to “what if…?”


Some of my many drafts and notes……….

If you know me at all well, or have read this post, you also know that I’ve been wrestling with this latest novel, and it’s been one of the toughest “fights” of my writing career. Nothing seemed to feel right, no matter how many revisions I wrote nor how many directions I took. I axed scenes. I swept characters off the page. I killed so many darlings I should be under arrest. None of my efforts resulted in something I was happy with, much less could be proud of.

I had to take drastic, desperate action. Which meant…making a plan.

But here’s the catch. I couldn’t bring myself to make a detailed outline, even with this mess. I needed direction and focus, not constraints that would make me hate the work. I needed to understand deeper motivation and theme, I had to expand my character analysis, and I wanted to be certain that the plot was not only clear but also included the twists and turns that I love to incorporate in my stories.

So I wrote a “treatment.” It’s the kind of thing that filmmakers write as they are about to begin storyboarding.

I also created a “mood board” which helped me visualize.

I began at the beginning, with the kind of deep backstory that we usually have to lop off the front end of our first drafts. This was the “once upon a time” stuff that dug back at least a generation before my protagonist was born. I set up the inevitable internal family conflicts that would lead to my true beginning and my protagonist’s struggle. I wrote the backstory for my antagonist so that I could understand his motivations.

Then I rewrote my actual story in a short, narrative form, in summary but including emotional impact. I made sure to summarize each character’s motivations and behaviors, but without trying to be literary or put any material in scene. I ended with a short summary of “afterward.”

The entire treatment came to 13 single-spaced pages and took me about two weeks to write and revise. From this, I was able to craft a revision that was tighter and yet fluid.

I think writing the treatment has resulted in a far better story, and allowed me to “pants” like I love to do, while adhering to a map that illuminated the way forward. Better yet, I was able to share this treatment with my beta readers and my editor, and get a thumbs up and/or suggestions for improvement.

Will this technique result in a story that stands the test of time? That remains to be seen – but I feel far better about this draft and its future than I did before. If you are a panster struggling with an unruly draft, you might consider this method of bringing your words to heel.

In fact, I’m going to try it with my next novel, even before I begin the first draft. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Once again, it’s that time! Calling all ghosts and goblins! Especially those who love to read, and who have enough candy to last a lifetime.

Curious City is once again hosting TrickorReaters for Halloween, and THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is participating. Here’s the direct link to what you’ll find about Rookskill Castle and company, but search the site for other spooktacular goodies.

And don’t forget how easy it is for moms and dads and guardians to put links to story give-aways in their Halloween treat baskets, so that brains are fed as well as tummies.

Get your spook on with great fun reads this Halloween.

And another reminder that there is a great “get-to-know-your-library” game at the Rookskill Castle website.

Happy hauntings!

Guest Post: Haunted Wyoming by Sally Keys

Who doesn’t like a haunted spot in October? I’m delighted to welcome Sally Keys to the blog today, to give us a spooky preview of scary places you can visit in Wyoming. Here’s a bit about Sally: “I spent over a decade working in web design before taking a step back to focus on home and family. These days, I work from home as a freelance writer. I love to spend as much time as possible exploring the great outdoors with my husband, two sons and our crazy but loving Labrador.”

Enjoy reading – just in time for Halloween!!

Haunted Wyoming: The Top 5 Scariest Places That Will Keep You Awake at Night

Ghost tours have become all the rage over the past years, and some states have become famous for their haunted towns, houses, and cemeteries. If you’re ever in Wyoming and are looking for a good scare, you may find that there are lots of places to go to that will keep you wide awake at night.

From spooky haunted hiking destinations to a trading post teeming with ghosts, there’s always something in Wyoming that can give you that hair-raising adventure that you’re craving for. One of the most haunted places on this list is a famous national park that is said to have seen a lot of paranormal activity. Here are the top five scariest places in Wyoming that will keep you awake at night.

Yellowstone National Park

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

This world famous park is one of the most premiere sites of ghost hauntings in Wyoming, and The Old Faithful Inn is known for housing a few entities. It has been said that Room Number 2 is haunted by the ghost of a woman dressed in 1890’s garb. There have also been eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a headless bride in the establishment.

Reports of mysterious activity are rumored to have taken place in the inn. Doors are said to open and close on their own accord, and a fire extinguisher is claimed to have been turned upside down and back to its original position by an unseen force.

Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie was known for being a successful trading post back in the 1800s. The location, which is now a National Historic site, is said to be haunted by a spirit known in the area as the Lady in Green. Legend says that the ghost appears every seven years on the Oregon Trail wearing a green riding dress and a veiled hat. The ghost is said to be riding a black stallion and is holding a jeweled quirt.

Other ghosts in the site include one which regularly haunts the Captain’s Quarters and another that makes a lot of noise in the Cavalry Barracks. There are also sightings of a ghost of a surgeon wearing a blood-spattered uniform.

Cedar Mountain

If you’re looking for another haunted destination that’s set in the great outdoors, then you must check out Cedar Mountain. It was once called Spirit Mountain as many people are said to have gotten lost in the caves. These as well as the canyon are said to be haunted, and footsteps have been heard by visitors.

Wyoming Territorial Prison

The facility was built in 1872 and it used to house a variety of criminals such as the famous outlaw, Butch Cassidy. The prison was closed in 1903 and it has been converted into a museum and state park. You may get a glimpse of the ghost of Julius Greenwelch, who is said to be a convicted murderer who ran a cigar making operation from the prison. It has been claimed that the ghost’s appearance is almost always accompanied by the scent of cigar smoke.

The Plains Hotel

This hotel is allegedly haunted by the ghosts of three people who were killed in a double murder-suicide. The housekeeping staff is said to have heard disembodied laughter and crying from one of the rooms, and witnesses report that they have had feelings of being watched. Entities have been seen wandering the second and fourth floors of the hotel, as well as its lobby.

If you’re in the mood for a good scare, check out any of these places in Wyoming. Bring your family and friends with you, and be sure to have a good time. While you’re at it, be on the lookout for ghosts too. You’ll never know who or what you may run into at any of these haunted destinations.

A Fun and Informative Writing Conference in Montana!

You’re invited to come to Montana for our Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators “Writing Forward Progress” Conference on October 13 – 15 in Billings, Montana! It’s a beautiful time of year here in the mountains – October is my favorite month. Billings is a short drive away from Yellowstone Park, and the airport has great connections from everywhere. You won’t want to miss this intimate and instructive gathering, with a chance to get a professional critique (a few spots left!) and vie for our new mentorship program.

We’re bringing in Agent Linda Camacho from Prospect Agency, Editor Kait Feldmann from Scholastic, and Creative Director Heather Kindseth Wutschke from Capstone. They will be presenting, and leading one-on-one critiques. We also have fun Field Trips to choose from, intensive craft workshops with me and Kent Davis, the kickoff of our new mentorship program, time to make connections, and a book signing party. Come join us for a wonderful weekend of Writing Forward Progress!

Here is the link for LOTS more details, and to register:


Writing Forward Progress Conference

October 13-15, 2017  –  Billings, MT  –  Northern Hotel

Friday, October 13

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.  –  Registration, Book Sale, and Silent Auction open

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.  –  Connections Party with hors d’oeuvres – Come meet the team for the conference, learn about programs, and mingle for connections

Saturday, October 14

8:00 – 8:40  –  Breakfast provided

8:40 – 9:00  –  Welcome and Announcements

9:00 – 9:50  –  Keynote by Agent Linda Camcho – Persistence: How to Keep Going in This Tough Business

9:50 – 10:10 – Break

10:10 – 11:00  –  Keynote by Editor Kate Feldmann

11:00 – 11:20  –  Break

11:20 – 12:10  –  Keynote by Creative Director Heather Kindseth Wutschke

12:10 – 12:30  –  Presentation of Crystal Kite Award

12:30 – 2:00  –  Lunch on your own

2:00 – 4:00  –  Field Trips  –  Meet at your selected location  –  Zoo Montana, Moss Mansion, or Yellowstone Art Museum

4:30 – 5:30  –  Field Trip Wrap-Up  –  Gather back at The Northern Hotel, Close of Book Sale

5:30 – 7:00  –  Dinner on your own

7:00 – 9:00  –  Tea and Dessert Reception for us and the community, at This House of BooksBook Signings with featured authors

Sunday, October 15

8:00 – 8:40  –  Breakfast provided

8:40 – 9:00  –  Announcements – close out of Silent Auction

9:00 – 12:30  –  Character Intensive Workshops with Janet Fox and Kent Davis

9:00 – 12:30  –  Individual Critiques with Agent/Editors

12:30 – 1:00  –  Final Wrap Up and Announcement of Mentorship Program Finalists

I really hope you can join us!

How To Aid Hurricane Harvey Folks

The amazing Kate Messner has once again launched KidLitCares, in order to benefit those who have suffered through Hurricane Harvey along the Gulf Coast.

A huge number of authors and illustrators and their agents and editors  – almost 200 total! – have offered services to those who make a tax-deductible donation to the American Red Cross. [Edited to add – you can choose to donate to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund if you prefer.] Services range from authors, editors, and agents who will review manuscripts, to authors who will donate their books plus Skype visits to libraries or classrooms. There are many opportunities for you to donate, feel great about helping – and benefit your students and/or your career.

I’ve donated a Skype visit and set of my books, and would really love to visit your classroom or library and send you books (and more – tell me you read this post when you bid and I’ll throw in a bunch of cool swag and extras.)

Please visit the site and bid on these amazing offerings. The auction ends Tuesday, September 5 at 9pm EST. And, this former Texan thanks you from the bottom of her heart.

Exposing My Heart

After publishing five books with varying but largely good success I’m under contract for my sixth, my fifth novel. This is an enviable position to be in, but for the first time I’m struggling through the edits, trying to get it right. This is a book that began life several years back (and actually the seeds were planted when I was in my MFA program, back in 2009). Every attack I’ve made on the manuscript has been difficult. I’ve been through every aspect of character and plot, voice and theme. I’ve checked backstory wounds and antagonist goals and tried to put tension on every page. What, I keep asking myself, what more can I do?

What am I missing?

This comes in the face of what counts as wonderful milestones. My most recent novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is a Crystal Kite Award winner. It’s received numerous accolades of which I’m very proud. I’ve earned out my advance, meaning the novel has done very well, and I’ve made my agent and editor happy. My first book, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, has just been released in a new edition after ten years of excellent sales.heart

And now I can’t seem to get a handle on a story I love. Why not?

The nasty little voice inside me answers that I’m a failure masquerading as a success.

Today I had a startling realization. First I read this piece by Kathleen McCleary in Writer Unboxed, which so resonated with where I am. Then I read an amazing Twitter thread by Minh Le @bottomshelfbks, and found myself in tears. Here’s just a sampling of the latter: “It is not selfish or self indulgent to create something esp when the hope is to connect with a young reader in the future. #whykeepwriting

And as I wept, I knew. What’s wrong with the story I’m writing is that I haven’t put my heart on the page.

Back when this story was born, I was a different person, with different ways of approaching writing. Not so skilled perhaps, maybe more intuitive, so I opened up in those early drafts. But more importantly, back when this story was born the world was in a different place.

What’s been going on around us has been breaking my heart, day in, day out. I’m exhausted. Traumatized. Feeling helpless, and wanting to help. Feeling like I’ve done this before (hadn’t we closed that book in the sixties and seventies?) Wanting to stand up for what is right. Wanting to make a difference.

All this emotion is being channeled in the wrong direction. All this emotion, funneled into things I cannot control, is making it impossible for me to expose my heart on the page. I’m just not that masochistic. Except.

I want to make a difference.

Some books are harder to write than others. Some books need to be told differently. But all books need to be written from the heart, with those universal emotions on the table. As Kathleen McCleary says, “And that is what the best writing is—a witness to the human experience, a companion that lets readers know you’re not in this alone.”

My son, an excellent reader as well as writer, said, “Put away the plot chart. Stop trying to hit the turning points. You’ve got it all there, just write the book.” He’s right. I’m going to have to write this book from my heart, from where I should have been writing it all along. I need to become a witness. That’s how I can make a difference. That’s how I can connect with a young reader.

Please wish me well.



My very first published book, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, came out from Free Spirit Publishing in 2006. Happily, this little study skills and organization tool for middle graders has done extremely well, with more than 60,000 copies in print and editions in seven languages. Free Spirit felt it was time to update the book with some new material and new illustrations.

So – ta-da! – here it is! With fabulous cover and illustrations by Steve Mark.

This new edition officially releases in mid-August, but you can find it on Amazon here, and order directly from Free Spirit here. And if you would like a signed copy, you can contact my hometown indie bookseller, Country Bookshelf, and we’ll get one out to you.

Free Spirit is also offering a Goodreads giveaway of 5 copies, running from August 3 through August 21. And later in the fall, I’ll offer a giveaway of my own. Here’s a bit more about the book.

The new edition features the same popular format, including pages that may be photocopied and lots of humor to guide kids through what might otherwise be the dull but necessary skills to succeed in school.

I’m very proud of this little book and its awards, but mostly I’m delighted whenever a student contacts me to let me know that GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT has helped them navigate the sometimes difficult waters of middle school.


The Importance of Author School Visits

This excellent post from Nerdy Book Club reminds me once again of the importance of author school visits. The post is written by a teacher, describing the enormous impact an author can have on a school – teachers discussing the presentation, students lining up to read, and students determined to write and illustrate their own work.

As a children’s author, I see this from the other side. I can attest to the rapt joy on a child’s face when they are given a glimpse into the world of story. I’ve exchanged correspondence with more than one reader fan after a school visit, and have watched from afar as that child matures into a serious writer. I know that by bringing my love of story-telling into a classroom I’m having a profound impact that will ripple for a long time.

One of the messages I bring to kids is that we each have our own unique story to tell. At a recent school visit, as I said this and pointed to kids, telling them that, yes, “You and you and you each have your own story to give to the world,” one boy shook his head, no. How will he learn to believe in himself without examples? I hope that by the end of my talk, as I gave him tools by which to find his voice, he felt differently. I know that just by being there, as a published writer with a love of expression (and as a former teacher), I offered a very different way of seeing reading and writing than what can be delivered through lessons and homework.

There are so many ways for teachers and librarians to raise funds for author school visits. Here are just a few links:

Funding for school visits

21 ways to fund school visits

If you are a teacher or librarian, please contact me with questions.


Oh, Frabjous Day!

Some really wonderful (frabjous!) news…………………


Contract for THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT – yay!

First, I’ve signed the contract for THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT. I’m very proud of this story. A girl who has visions, her brother who has been kidnapped, a mysterious knight, witchcraft, belief, a country in jeopardy, magic, dragons, the stars………………..


Another contract, for………..!

Second, I signed another contract that I can’t reveal just yet but is something dear to my heart. Let’s just say there’s a debut picture book in the works.



And finally, this.

Yes, an award, and such a special award it is. It is the acclimation of my peers, with the awarding of the Crystal Kite Award for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, in the western states region.

This means so, so much to me. Especially since it’s from members of SCBWI, the organization that is the foundation of my career. I look forward to celebrating this wonderful award with Montana SCBWI members, and beyond.

Thank you all. Because without you – readers and fans – I wouldn’t be sending new books out into the world. I wouldn’t be deeply thrilled by awards, like the Crystal Kite.

So, THANK YOU!! I love you all!!