Animals In Yellowstone, Part 1

The American west is rich with wildlife. But some of America’s most interesting animals can only be seen easily in Yellowstone National Park because they are now concentrated in that ecosystem. Plus – visitors can drive through the Park from dawn to dusk and observe even from roadsides animals that are otherwise not visible to humans.

Buffalo in winter

Here are just a few of the animals you might see:

  • Ungulates like bison, elk, mule deer, white-tail deer, moose, antelope, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats
  • Predators like coyote, fox, mountain lion, grizzly bear, black bear, bobcat, lynx, and wolf
  • Smaller mammals like weasels, skunks, and badgers
  • Birds like bald eagles, trumpeter swans, ospreys, and sand hill cranes

Elk are numerous throughout the Park. They like to concentrate around the hot springs at Mammoth. Mountain goats are often seen at the highest elevations, like the slopes of Mount Washburn. Bald eagles can be spotted soaring or sitting above the rivers, searching for trout.

Many animals congregate in the Lamar Valley along the north end of the Park – which conveniently is open to cars all winter (unlike the rest of the Park in winter which is only open to snow vehicles.) Because two of these animals – bison and wolves – have interesting histories, I’m going to concentrate in the rest of this post on the American bison, or buffalo, and next week I’ll talk a bit about wolves.

Elk on the lawn at Mammoth

When Europeans first arrived in America there were large endemic herds of American bison. Bison have been here since prehistoric times, grazing in huge herds in the open prairie lands. By some estimates, 20 to 30 million buffalo once roamed the plains of America, mostly west of the Mississippi. Some say that there were so many animals they occupied every square inch of land for as far as the eye could see. They were hunted on horseback and on foot by native Americans who harvested them for food, clothing, and shelter.

Sadly, buffalo were easy targets for Europeans with firearms, and by 1900 they were nearly at extinction, with only 300 animals remaining in the entire country. Some travelers shot buffalo through the open windows of trains passing through the plains; there were so many animals no one realized the extent of the slaughter until it was almost too late. The near extermination of the buffalo was also partly responsible for the degradation of living conditions for many native American tribes, especially Plains Indians, who relied on the buffalo for survival.

Fortunately for the buffalo, a few animals were held in private hands, and conservation efforts in the early 1900s concentrated on bringing animals back into Yellowstone. A small herd of genetically pure animals was held in the Mammoth area until the population stabilized. As a result, today almost 5000 American bison roam freely throughout the Park, and it is almost a certainty that if you visit Yellowstone, you’ll see buffalo. They are magnificent and impressive animals, our national mammal.

But, please! These animals, while they look like large – very large! – cows, are extremely dangerous, as dangerous as a grizzly if you get too close. They are ill-tempered and defensive and can gore or trample the unsuspecting tourist. Enjoy them from a safe distance and think about the tens of thousands of years the American bison has been a part of this beautiful landscape.


Yellowstone: Human History in Brief

In anticipation of the release of VOLCANO DREAMS, I want to spend a little time “in” Yellowstone National Park. In subsequent posts I’ll focus on the Park’s animals and thermal features, but this post will give you a cursory overview of the Park’s human history.

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 by Congress and signed into law as the world’s first national park by President Ulysses S. Grant. But long before it was a national park, the Yellowstone ecosystem was inhabited by Native Americans who lived with its extraordinary natural features and unique animal life.

Shoshone camp

As long ago as 11,000 years prehistoric peoples lived in the Yellowstone region, as evidenced by dated projectile points. When Native American peoples began to coalesce into tribes, Shoshone, Blackfeet, and Bannock were among those that traversed the region. The Shoshone gathered obsidian (a volcanic glass rock), known for its ability to be honed to a knife-sharp edge. The Tukudika harvested the bighorn sheep and became known as the Sheepeaters. The Kiowa tradition says that their creator gave them Yellowstone at a hot spring in the Mud Volcano area. Other tribes – Crow and Piegan – also have strong associations with the region, and even long after the arrival of Europeans Native Americans have lived in and around Yellowstone. Altogether 26 current tribes have historic connections to Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran’s painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The first white men to arrive, in the 1700s, were traders and trappers following the world’s appetite for fur. These early visitors described a hellish scene of “brimstone and vapors” so bizarre that the tales were laughed away. As the fur trade was replaced by mining and lumber, the stories spread until the region was explored more formally by others including the Washburn expedition. Public lectures followed that expedition and shared that the tales of the remarkable beauty of Yellowstone were no exaggerations, and this prompted requests for funds from Congress for further exploration.

An 1871 delegation headed by Ferdinand Hayden included the landscape painter Thomas Moran, whose paintings are still some of the most famous and beautiful representations of the Park. Preservation of the region itself was promoted by Hayden, and thus the generation of a new idea: creating a protected area for public enjoyment, our first National Park.

After further exploration and the essential development of roads and trails, early public touring of Yellowstone followed, though the tours were primitive by today’s standards. The west was still wild and untamed and attacks from bands of “hostiles” and robbers were possible at any time. The construction in 1883 of the big, out-of-place National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, with a capacity of anywhere from 300-500 guests, opened a new era.

Stagecoaches carried passengers through the Park to a tent camp at the geyser basins near Old Faithful. Visitors bathed in the hot springs (not only dangerous, but today strictly forbidden as it damages the fragile thermal structures). “Sagebrushers” roughed it by camping in their own tents in the wild, and “dudes” spent their days with touring companies and their nights in the hotels that were built to accommodate, including the gorgeous Old Faithful Inn, opened in 1904.

Not until the early 1900s did the idea of the preservation of Yellowstone’s natural features become a cornerstone of its existence as a park. Preservation and conservation of both the wildlife and natural features are the reasons why Yellowstone is a national treasure – we can all visit this extraordinary place and enjoy its wonders.

If you want to read more about the history of Yellowstone, my favorite resource is Aubrey L. Haines The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, published by the University Press of Colorado. I’ve created a Pinterest page with some of my favorite images, which you can find here.

Follow along – next week I’ll begin a discussion about the unique wildlife of the Park.


VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE (Web of Life Books) is my newest book, a picture book for readers ages 5-8 (and older!) out in September 2018. It tells the story of the Yellowstone super volcano, which is responsible for the thermal features that make Yellowstone one of the world’s jewels.

The story of the volcano, right down to the magma chamber underground, is framed by the animals that inhabit the Park, from buffalo to elk to bears. Packed with facts about both animals and geology, VOLCANO DREAMS is beautifully illustrated by Marlo Garnsworthy.

Kirkus Reviews has said about VOLCANO DREAMS: “The author’s first picture book reflects her own appreciation for this national treasure, which could inspire family visits. An unusual and appealing addition to the sense-of-wonder shelf.”

Starting next week, follow this blog for a tour of Yellowstone and a discussion about both the animals and the super volcano. Plus………….I’ll be running some cool giveaways. Stay tuned!

Kathi Appelt & THE UNDERNEATH: “Terrifying Beauty”

As a newbie writer, I had the great good fortune to move to the same Texas town where Kathi Appelt lives. When we met I was instantly struck by her generosity, not to mention her talent. She became my true mentor, encouraging me in all things including attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was there that I first heard her read some of the early pages of THE UNDERNEATH.

I was instantly mesmerized – as have been so many readers now, adults and children alike. It’s no wonder the novel is a Newbery honoree. It’s no wonder that ten years after publication we can celebrate this gorgeous piece of literature and introduce it to a whole new cadre of readers.

For teachers especially, Kathi has created an activity page which you can find here. And she’s also sponsoring a fabulous giveaway of 15 copies of THE UNDERNEATH, in addition to a classroom set of books and a Skype visit! Just click the link to submit your entry to the giveaway.

And here’s a lovely new trailer made by her son and daughter-in-law:

Kathi has generously come to the blog today with a guest post on fear and bravery, and on the necessary marriage of those two opposites that leads to what saves the day: love. I’m honored to host her.

Here is Kathi’s post:

Terrifying Beauty

I confess that I’m not a brave person. Rather than walk up and step on cockroaches, I tend to throw shoes at them and duck for cover. I don’t watch scary movies. No Texas Chainsaw Murders for this girl. I refuse to swim in bodies of water in which I cannot see my feet. There are crabs, don’t you know. You will never find me at the top of the Empire State Building, or any other tall building for that matter. I will never grace the gondola of a hot air balloon—you can go to the bank on that one.

I also don’t eat very hot and spicy peppers, nor do I drink anything stronger than a nice Chardonnay. You could say that I’m pretty much just a big old scaredy cat.

So this begs the question of why I tend to write books that put my heroes in positions that could clearly be considered “life or death.” On the surface, the answer seems to suggest that I’m somehow living vicariously through my characters, putting myself in impossible situations and then bravely winning the day. And I think there may be a modicum of truth to that. Don’t we all wish that we could be as resourceful as Kirby Larsen’s Hattie, in Hattie Big Sky, or as wise as Jacqueline Woodson’s Lonnie in Hush, or as funny and witty as Alan Cumyn’s Owen, in The Secret Life of Owen Skye?

The thing is, I know that Kirby, Jacqueline and Alan are all of those things that their characters are: resourceful, wise, witty. And more. So much more.

But where does brave come in? In the ten years since The Underneath was published, kids around the world have written to me about this book, and one of the things they almost always talk about it is the bravery that my old hound dog and his two kittens share. And they are brave, aren’t they? They would do anything for each other, including putting their own lives on the line.

The hard question that I carried with me while I wrote this story was not for my characters. I knew their answer. Rather, it was for myself. Would I, could I, do the same? Would I risk my own life for someone I loved? I sincerely hope that I would make that choice, but I simply don’t know. I’ve never been confronted with this kind of situation.

Every day, there is another story in the news about heroism, about someone who put him or herself in harm’s way. It’s something that doesn’t only show up in fiction or in movies. It can seem random—like recently, when James Shaw, Jr., a young father of a four-year old daughter, threw himself at a shooter at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, TN. Something compelled him to act bravely. And thank goodness, right?

But in a story, we need more. We need to understand why a character acts and reacts. We need to know what compels him or her to step into those hero shoes (and not throw them at the cockroach). In other words, fiction is not random.

One of the higher purposes of fiction is to allow us to discover how seemingly random elements can combine to create that instance of bravery in exactly the moment that it is called for. If we can watch a kitten like Puck grow from being a small mischief-maker into a determined hero, then we can more fully understand what motivates someone like James Shaw, Jr. to say, “I’m not going down today.”

For me, it always boils down to fear and love. They’re the opposite sides of a single coin. Ranger loved those kittens, and they loved him. We’re talking Big Love, the kind that rolls over you in waves. But wherever there is Big Love, there is Big Fear. And behind that Big Fear is the very real terror of losing those we love. There’s no bigger nightmare.

When I first became a parent, I remember reading an article in Mothering magazine. The writer had just had a baby girl. I had just had my baby boy. In the article, she claimed that becoming a parent was a “terrifying beauty.” I was struck by the truth of that phrase. There is nothing more profoundly wonderful, and at the same time, so wrought with the horrifying prospect of loss.

It’s not just with our children that we experience this kind of Big Love/Big Fear. It’s the same with all those we love, it’s the same with our pets, it’s the same with places. I call them “the three p’s.” People, pets, places. They’re where our hearts find meaning and yearning and sustenance. They’re where we are confronted with the depths of our own characters.

In writing Ranger and the kittens’ story, it was this Big Love that I was reaching for, but in order to find that, I had to find the Big Fear too. One can’t exist without the other.

Writing The Underneath didn’t make me brave. But it definitely gave my heart some room to expand. And I can’t help but think that when we give ourselves a chance to explore the “terrifying beauty” of our own lives, we can confront our fears and make more space for love to save the day.

Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

Benefit For Vermont College of Fine Arts

Every year the Writing and the Writing For Children and Young Adults programs of Vermont College of Fine Arts puts on an auction benefit. It’s an awesome collection of biddable items that benefit the school “supporting scholarships, residency events, alumni programs and initiatives. This year 100% of the auction proceeds will fund scholarships for students in both programs, with the Glover Fund for Writers, Authors, & Publishers, VCFA’s invested scholarship fund which will grant writing students’ scholarships for years to come.”

Check out items like these:

  • Just added 25 page critique by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. Linda is looking for MG, YA, and adult fiction across all genres and will analyze the critical first 25 pages of your novel, defining its strength’s and identifying ways you might improve it or make it more salable.
  • Handmade VCFA Afghan crocheted by VCFA’s very own Angela Paladino. Lovely, cozy, and full of VCFA pride!
  • Spend three days at a VCFA residency! This is your chance to experience what another program residency is like. Accommodations at VCFA and meals included, if desired. [Dates must be agreed upon by winner and Program Director; excludes the two residential programs].
  • Tea for two with Katherine Paterson. Spend time with the incredible author herself at her home in Montpelier, VT.

I’ve donated to this auction because I so love my alma mater and want to support her, and you can find my auction item here – a bunch of books and cool swag. I can personalize the books for you or your gift recipient (your kid’s teacher, maybe?) And because I love the school so much, I’m adding a last minute item – a hot-off-the-presses first edition hard-cover copy of my not yet released picture book VOLCANO DREAMS!

But don’t wait – there’s less than a week left to bid! Don’t miss this chance to get some wonderful stuff, and benefit VCFA!

A Geyser-Gazer Moment

We live within shouting distance of Yellowstone National Park. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve visited the Park – at least once a year for some 20 years. There’s a “thing” when you visit and learn about the geysers, especially – a group of people who are routine visitors who quietly call themselves “geyser gazers”. These folks move from one eruption to the next, guided by their walkie-talkie network and ephemeral friendships, and they are usually the first on the scene when an unpredictable geyser erupts, because they know the signs, because they spend weeks in the Park, gazing.

Old Faithful

For one or two summers, my son and I joined the geyser gazer network. It was huge fun, like fitting the pieces of a great puzzle together. We learned to read the pre-eruption signs; we brought our walkie-talkies and linked with the other geyser gazers; we waited (sometimes for hours) for a particular eruption; we made those ephemeral friendships with people from all walks of life.

Just a few weeks ago, the world’s tallest geyser, the highly unpredictable Steamboat, erupted for the first time in 3 years (check out the videos in this link). I wish I’d been there. Watching a geyser is like nothing else. The ground shakes, the sky is blotted out by steam, the noise is like a freight train, the air is rich with the smell of sulfur. Steamboat’s eruptions can reach the height of a 30 story building, so you’re also at risk of getting wet.

My upcoming picture book, VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, explores the reason why there are so many geysers in Yellowstone. The Park lies above a super volcano’s giant magma chamber, which heats to boiling the rainwater that seeps down through cracks and fissures. I’m excited about sharing this window into science with readers.

Geyser gazers in action

But there’s also something magical in being a geyser gazer in a place like Yellowstone, beyond the geysers and the volcano. Sharing a fantastic (and not dangerous if you obey the rules) natural phenomenon with total strangers takes everything to a basic level of trust and companionship. There is no room for politics. There is no place for discrimination. There is only the thrill of communally watching our amazing earth perform a splendid feat.

That’s why I’m strongly opposed to raising the entry fees to our National Parks. All children – and their families – should be able to witness this magic, and should experience it with a broad spectrum of fellow citizens. This is not a right of the privileged few. We all “own” our Parks.

I hope you have the chance to come to Yellowstone and see a geyser for yourself. And give geyser gazing a shot! It’s super fun. Oh! – And come see me this August in the Park. I’ll be signing VOLCANO DREAMS.

On Shedding Light In Dark Corners

Lately I think we all have felt confronted (if not bludgeoned) by humanity’s darker nature. Between what we hear in the news to what we read online to the inexplicable horror of mass murder to the cruel taunting and trolling that pervades social media it’s hard to believe in pure human goodness.

As an author who writes for young readers I feel compelled to bring goodness into my stories. But in order to shed that light in dark corners, I have to portray the darkness, too. So, how does an author find balance? How do we write about hopelessness and evil without leaving our readers feeling hopeless and lost?

A couple of recent essays have spoken eloquently to these questions. First, in this analysis of what it means to read and write dark stories, Vaughn Roycroft says that his attraction to dark material has a limit, and that limit is drawn by whether the story is gratuitous in its treatment of dark behavior, or whether, as he puts it, “We can choose to provoke contemplation. We can choose to seek meaning, and to inspire our readers to seek their own.”

And in this post from Diane Magras, she explores what it means to write an antagonist who is nuanced enough to become good and a protagonist willing to accept that change. As she puts it, “growth comes from understanding, from exploring that which is different, and includes a willingness to change perspectives, to learn.”

The cover of my childhood Grimms’

Both of these authors have hit upon a central point in telling tales of darkness. As authors we must help readers seek meaning and understanding, and we should work to portray evil as not inevitable but mutable and subject to our willingness to reach across boundaries.

The old tales of the Brothers Grimm are truly dark, and evil behavior is usually rewarded by severe (often bloody) punishment. Good and evil are clearly distinguished. While I love those old tales, that strive to teach the benefits of humility and generosity, we live in an age of greater complexity. Both in literature and in life today the roles played by protagonists and antagonists are more fluid. Most readers would identify with the protagonist – the “good” guy – in a tale. But if we portray our antagonists as purely “bad” we miss the opportunity to, as it were, teach the benefits of understanding the other.

Understanding the other is, I believe, the way out of darkness. This is why movements like We Need Diverse Books are so important, and why addressing mental health issues with compassion is essential. Shedding light in dark corners is a matter of seeing clearly what we might otherwise wish to ignore or pass off as “bad”.

How should this impact our writing? I think we need to be aware of the limits of our personal perspectives and find beta readers who can help us expand those perspectives. But we also need to stretch to express those things that make us as humans fundamentally the same. We must confront the darkness by stepping inside it with open hearts.

And finally, and personally, no matter how dark my stories, I strive to leave my readers with a sense of hope and purpose, to give those readers a lamp to illuminate dark corners.

What about you? Do you read and/or write “dark” stories? How do you shed the light?


On Ethics

This blog post will stray a little bit from usual subjects and into current events but bear with me. Or don’t. That’s okay, too.

As an author of books for children – and as a mother, and a former teacher – I feel a particular responsibility toward representing ethical and moral behaviors. When I write I try to address subjects like cruelty, kindness, decision-making, loss, love, bullying, and so on, with the hope that kids who read my books will find answers to some of their questions, the kinds of questions they may not even be able to voice.

That’s my personal moral, ethical approach to my work.

David’s “Death of Socrates”

But sometimes it’s important to pause and ask, what does that mean? What is the ethically and morally right thing to do in any given situation?

Some things are ethically ambiguous, or at least debatable. For example, I faced a personal ethical dilemma when my very ill father (who was fully in his right mind) begged to be taken home and off hospital life support knowing that he would die within days.

But some things are clearly morally and ethically wrong.

It is morally and ethically wrong to walk into a school and shoot children.

How we, as a society deal with that ethical truth is entirely debatable, and I’m not going to take a side.

Ok, I am going to take a side. I’m going to take the side of the students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This is the letter that I wrote to them, and I wrote it for young people everywhere who take stands against ethical wrongs.

Oh, Brave Ones,

When I see your faces, I am so proud. When I hear your voices, I am so moved. I see you, I hear you, and we – all – believe in you.

By terrible chance, this path has chosen you and it will not be smooth. Some will disparage you and some will mock you. Some will seek to bring you down. Please know that you have all of us behind you and though we can’t stop the arrows we will gladly take them in your place.

You are the Mockingjay. You are Starr. You are Martin, and you are bringing Martin’s dream. We will follow you.

You are the future and the past will fade in the brilliance of your light.

If you would like to read more letters written by children’s authors to these and all young people, here’s a link to the webpage created for this purpose by children’s author Ann Braden. And here’s her beautiful editorial for The Brattleboro Reformer.

These are difficult times to navigate, for choices are hard when we complicate them with personal desires. I will focus on asking myself in each situation – and in my work – this question: what is morally and ethically right?


Guest Post: Deb Gonzales On Book Promo Class

I’ve known Debbie Gonzales since we overlapped – ten years ago – at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s a talented lady. She built each of my curriculum guides, which are stellar. Now she’s launching a new venture designed to help you with your book publicity.

I’m happy to have Deb on the blog this week to tell you about her class, Path to Promotion. Here’s Deb:

You may know that I’m, at long last, going to be a debut author! My book comes out in the spring of 2019. Hip, hip hooray! Like a good little soldier, I’ve been working on a publicity platform, discovering lots of neat ways to let folks know about the book and myself. However, I discovered that, though I’ve been very active in the Kid Lit industry for a long time, I feel somewhat ill-prepared to promote my book. And then, it occurred to me that, if I feel this way, then others might, too. So, I contacted a few author and publicist friends and have put together an on-line publicity course suitable for published and pre-published authors and illustrators.  Together, we will navigate our way down the Path to Promotion.

I have a vision of what I’d like my publicity campaign to look like. I know I’ll need to utilize social media in creative and authentic ways to make that happen. I’m very interested in developing a sense of community with readers, as well as the folks I’ve been honored to create teacher guides for. I want to know how to make a solid connection with the school/library market. And, while I’m blessed to have tremendous support from my publisher, I’m fully aware that they have other authors that deserve their attention, too. I desire all these things, and yet I have limited funds and time to devote to developing this campaign. Where should I start? I need a plan. Set some practical, affordable, and achievable goals. Devise a strategy by asking guidance from professionals who know what to do. Take some action! That’s what Path to Promotion: A Six-Week Online Book Publicity Course is all about.

Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity preparation process, and to clarify steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. In this session, we’ll explore topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others.  At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the quest to make a splash in the world.

Here’s how the Path to Promotion 6-week course works:

  • On Monday of each week participants will access an audio interview featuring one of the Path to Promotion faculty members focusing on their area of expertise. In addition, they’ll access a handout and (look out, now) a homework assignment due on Wednesday of that week.
  • On Wednesday, participants will access a live webinar (affectionately known as The Debinar) during which they can connect with the featured faculty member by asking questions via live chat. The Debinar will be recorded for later viewing. Questions may be submitted in advance.
  • At the end of the course participants receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the development of a practical, affordable, and effective promotional plan!

Some important registration and fee information:

  • Session run from Monday, May 14 until Wednesday, June 18
  • Early Bird Registration – $175 (opens March 1 – closes April 8)
  • Full Registration Rate – $200 (opens April 9 – closes May 7)
  • Spaces are limited

The Faculty list and their topics include:

  • Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media present EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PUBLICITY, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

I’m over-the-top excited about producing this course. The faculty is incredible. The topics are timely. I love the fact that the Path to Promotion coursework is interactional, flexible, and versatile – perfect for authors and illustrators, at what ever stage they may be in the quest for publication.

Join us, won’t you?

For more information, contact Deb Gonzales at

Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects. She’s the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming non-fiction picture book Play Like a Girl: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). A transplanted Texan, Debbie now calls beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan home where she lives with her husband John and spunky pup, Missy. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.


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.