Librarians, Teachers, & ROOKSKILL Fans: A New Website!

Attention fans of Rookskill!

In two days, I’m excited to announce, we’ll be launching a new website dedicated to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. The website contains a trove of information, with some reveals and other “extras”, but most importantly, it contains a game that can be played in schools, libraries, or by readers anywhere.

rookskill website

Here’s a description of the game:


A Game for Readers, Libraries & Bookstores

Rookskill Castle has many secrets.

Some you’ll find.

Some will find you.

Something is amiss at this spooky Scottish castle.  For 200 years the villagers have seen children where there are no children and have heard singing but have never seen the singers.

Who are these sad, mysterious children who appear and disappear – and do they need our help? 

In this game, clever players will work in teams to solve clues hidden within the pages of books on library or bookstore shelves.  Together the players will discover four objects that uncover spine-chilling secrets of Rookskill and the ghostly children within.

For bookstores and libraries, the game kit contains full instructions, sample dialogue, and printable clues, charms, and other event materials.  Look for the game kit on the Book page at

In addition to solving the riddles for fun, players will learn how to find books and other materials in a library or bookstore, so we hope that librarians and teachers will use the game to introduce new patrons to the library. Players need not have read THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE in order to play or to win, and from time to time participants will be able to enter a drawing for fun prizes.

And the site allows readers to ask me questions about my books and writing.

Please come visit this new website and enjoy the game and other goodies!

Bury the Backstory

Recently I watched one of my all-time favorite movies yet again, A Knight’s Tale with the late Heath Ledger. I love it for its quirky characters, its wry humor, its evocative dialogue, its historical twists, and its way of making history relevant by the use of contemporary music. But I also love the way the screenplay unfolds the story.

Many beginning writers (*raises hand*) make the mistake of starting too far back in the story. That is, “once upon a time, a girl was born…” and we watch said character go to school, brush her teeth, and suffer her backstory wound, all in time-linear fashion, until the real story starts when said character is sixteen. A story like this is usually as dull as toast and rarely publishable. The best stories begin not at the beginning but with an incident that sets the main character in motion to the inevitable end.the knight

It is, however, necessary for audiences to understand how your character got to that inciting incident. So how does one layer in backstory? Let’s look at A Knight’s Tale for a great example of plotting backstory. (And I highly encourage you to take a look at the movie if you haven’t already.)

Our hero, William (Ledger), enters the story as the squire to a knight. We have no idea how he got there, but it doesn’t matter – until later. What matters up front and is information we are given is that he’s not noble-born, but goes into disguise as a knight, which takes him from jousting tournament to tournament. Being in disguise is his story problem, and leads to the climax, which I won’t reveal here.

When do we see the first of his backstory? We get a small glimpse about 1/4 of the way into the movie when we hear the revelatory thematic phrase, “It’s possible for a man to change his stars,” meaning someone who begins life in one way can end it in another with effort, persistence and a little luck. In this first glimpse, we’re given a short scene of a very young William with his father, who first plants the seed of “change your stars.” We also see swift and subtle hints that this is a challenging goal to attain.

But we don’t know the entire story for a long while, until William and his crew are on their way to London for the first time in many years. Then the full backstory of William’s engagement as a squire and his departure from home is revealed in a longer flashback. This moment comes right about or just after the 1/2-way mark of the movie. From this point we understand that William’s departure from his father was both good and important (“change your stars”), but also emotionally difficult (his wound).backstory scene

In short, we’re given a glimpse of William’s past and backstory wound when we need it, and not a moment sooner.

The transitions between these flashbacks and the story present are also perfectly executed, especially the second flashback in which William recalls his first childhood ferry crossing – leaving London and his father at night – when he is crossing back to London after many years.

When you need backstory to explain a character’s behavior, to illustrate their wound, or to enrich or deepen the theme and/or hero’s journey, consider placing flashbacks in your story after you’ve set your character on their path. Keep the flashbacks short and transition them in and out in a way that feels natural. Your story will have more energy, and your reader will be drawn into the expectation that you’ll reveal important information when the time is right, and not before.

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!