Teacher & Librarian ARC Give Away: Carry Me Home

Teachers and librarians! I have a bunch of ARCs (advance reader copies) of Carry Me Home, so I’m hosting an initial ARC give away on Twitter this week! Here’s the link to the Twitter post. (This give away is being hosted solely on Twitter, but watch this space for more give aways throughout the spring.)

Carry Me Home follows a pair of young sisters who are living with their daddy in the back of a car, when Daddy goes missing. Lulu, the older sister, has to try and manage life for herself and her younger sister Serena. Lulu is afraid that someone will discover their situation, and that the sisters will be separated, never mind that she is just starting to find her place in her new school. But how can a twelve-year-old from Texas take care of food and school and all of life when she has no money and her only home is a Suburban parked in a wintery Montana RV Park?Three ARC copies of Carry Me Home


Here is an interview I did on Mr. Schu Reads that will tell you a little bit more.

I think (I fear) that this story is all too timely. I’ve personally known families who have lived in cars because they couldn’t afford adequate housing. I truly hope that none of your students are in this situation, but if they are, I hope that this book helps all your students to discuss and empathize. I’d like to have them think about and discuss what they might do if they discovered that a classmate was living in a car. Or what they might feel if they needed help and were afraid to ask for it.

I have more copies to give away throughout the spring so please watch for those. If you’ve entered this first giveaway and didn’t win – I’ll keep a record and re-enter you for the next!

Edited to add…………I’m blown away by the response to this giveaway, so I’m increasing the number of copies I’ll give away this time to 6!!

And thank you for the good work you are doing with the kids who need you.

Hot Writing Craft Tips for Cold Winter Nights, Number Three

For this week’s hot writing craft tips, let’s look even more closely and with a sculptor’s eye at words and sentences and paragraphs.

Diction and Syntax

Diction (word choice) and syntax (sentence structure) are more than just grammar terms – they are the materials writers use to shape thought. By understanding and using how the brain processes written information, you can connect more effectively with your readers.

image of Burroway's Writing Fiction craft book

Janet Burroway taught me a number of things about using the right diction and syntax.

The most important word in a sentence is the first (noun). The second most important word in a sentence is the last. These two words should be strong and solid. Here’s an example from THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS: “Isaac’s childhood stood on the far side like a long-ago tale.” By beginning and ending the sentence the nouns “childhood” and “tale” immediately connect the reader to the fairy tales of their own childhood.

Verbs are best when active, not passive. Here’s another example from THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS: “In the dusky light the castle hulked against the sky.” I could have said “was silhouetted” but “hulked” gives the castle more menace, and it feels more alive, in a creepy way.

Avoid distancing the reader by avoiding the use of words like “saw”, “heard”, and “felt”. Again, in ARTIFACT HUNTERS, I said, “Nausea roiled through Isaac.” I could have said, “Isaac felt nauseous” but you can see right away how that distances the reader from Isaac’s immediate sensations.

When Every Word Matters

It took me several years to write VOLCANO DREAMS. I removed many more words than I added. Every single sentence, every single word has to be just right – especially in the case of a non-fiction, scientifically-accurate book like this. For example, “The elk tucks his bulk into feathered grass” implies the size of the animal (with a little internal rhyme) and the age of the grass (feathered being a mature, late-summer grass).

Picture books must be particularly tight in all the ways I’ve described above. And more – in a picture book, assuming you aren’t the illustrator, you must leave room for the illustrator to interpret and enlarge upon your vision. Rather than writing “A cloud of balloons in red, green, and blue”, write “A cloud of balloons in riotous colors” allowing the illustrator to choose odd and interesting combinations.

My three hot writing craft tips for this week:

  1. Make sure you use strong nouns to frame your sentences.
  2. Use active verbs that carry deeper meaning. Avoid passive verbs and the verb “to be” in any form.
  3. Avoid distancing words like “saw”, “felt”.

Do you have any tips to share?


Round Two Writing Tips

These small tips are my Season’s Greetings to you all!! And maybe I’m making a small statement about 2020?

I hope you enjoy!

Conflict and Tension

Every story benefits by having high tension and strong conflict. First drafts are generally not high tension drafts – it isn’t until revision that I add as much tension as I can. Not only is tension crucial to keeping reader engagement at the broadest level of a story – micro-tension is made by certain word choices and sentence structures and must be deliberately added.

I turned to a random sentence in The Artifact Hunters and found this: “The door blew open and Kat raced into the room.” Both of those verbs, “blew” and “raced”, ratchet up the tension in the scene.

But, great conflict isn’t about constant confrontation or physical danger. Internal conflict is even more important, even when not fully understood by the character until near the end of the book.

Ask, what is going on inside the character? What does the character really want, need, desire? That longing – for love, security, approval, etc. – underlies every action that the character takes, for good or ill. In Faithful, my main character Maggie desperately wants to find her mother. This longing drives everything she does, even to the point of making poor choices that endanger those she cares about the most.

For much more on tension check out any of Donald Maass’s books, especially The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

My Round Two Writing Tips Are…

  1. Add tension at both the macro and micro levels. Be sure to select strong action verbs and solid nouns over adverbs and adjectives to describe tension.
  2. Internal conflict is just as, if not more important than, external conflict.
  3. Check out Donald Maass’s books for more on conflict and tension, and also James Scott Bell’s Conflict & Suspense.

Hot (Writing) Tips For Cold Nights

The more I write, the more writing tips I collect. These little tips distill much larger thoughts on the writing craft down to understandable ideas, and I’m going to share a few with you over the next weeks. And if you are on Pinterest, check out my story boards on writing tips (thanks to Deb Gonzales!)

Before You Write A Word

Spend time thinking about your story before you begin your first draft. Distill your idea – the kernel of the idea that sparks your interest – into a couple of sentences and then let things simmer. Why?

Because your subconscious mind will chew on the idea, and you’ll be surprised by how many things float into view. As an example, when I began writing The Artifact Hunters, I knew that it would be a sequel to The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle; I knew that my main character would be a boy; I knew that clocks had to be involved in some fashion, because I wanted to play with time travel; and I knew it would be set a couple of years later than Charmed Children.

The creepy inspiration for The Artifact Hunters – a “death’s head” watch.

As I let the idea simmer, without warning or searching on my part, I stumbled upon the death’s head watch. I hadn’t known these watches existed, never mind how they looked. The watch became the centerpiece of the story, and as a magical artifact, inspired the notion of the Vault of Magical Artifacts and then the entire story unspooled before I began to write.

As another example, I thought about my forthcoming novel Carry Me Home for almost five years before I knew how to write it, and that time allowed me to write the novel in a month.

When You Begin To Write

Remember that whoever your main character is, he or she has had a life before your story. This is what we mean when we say that a story begins in medias res – in the middle of things. Your character has a past, and the start of your story propels them into a new situation. That “newness” and the unbalancing of your character should start on page one of the story, in order to draw your reader right in. (For more on hooking the reader, see my Medium post on this subject.)

In other words, don’t start with throat-clearing, i.e., description, long narrative explanations, etc. Start with a problem, presented to a character who is fully formed by her past experiences.

So, my three hot writing tips for this week:

  1. Think before you write.
  2. Hook the reader on page 1, with a problem.
  3. Present that problem to a fully formed character.

Let me know what you think!

Need Books? Try Bookshop!

If you are lucky enough to live in a town with an independent bookseller (and they deliver or provide other pandemic-related services), I hope you support them. But if you don’t, I hope you’ll consider Bookshop as your online retailer for your book purchases.

Bookshop supports indie booksellers by giving back a percentage of sales, and it supports authors by allowing us to set up affiliate links to our in-print books – wherein authors also receive a percentage of sales. You can find curated lists of great reads. Right now they offer gift wrapping and free shipping, and they always offer books at a discount comparable to other retailers, including the one we all know and love to hate. They are constantly updating and improving their services, and I love the whole idea.

My Spooky Middle Grade group has a “bookstore”, and I’m also an affiliate, so if you’re looking for spooky books or my books you’ll find them there.

As always, if you would like to purchase my books and have them signed and personalized, I do have a wonderful indie bookstore right here in Bozeman, Montana, Country Bookshelf, and they’ll be happy to let me know of your wishes.

Rather than purchasing your book gifts this season from the Big Behemoth, if you don’t have an indie bookstore or can’t get out to buy books, won’t you consider Bookshop?

New! For Teachers and Librarians – Virtual Author Visits!

It’s tough to be an author and even tougher to be a teacher in these “remote learning” times. How can we visit schools, when schools might not even be in session?

My Spooky Middle Grade clan of authors, led by the wonderful Kim Ventrella, is putting together a series of virtual author visits that you can watch at any time.  In this video I talk about The Artifact Hunters and The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle:

We introduce ourselves and then answer some of the most interesting “frequently asked questions”. Questions like, “How do you make your fantasy spooky?” and “How long did it take you to become an author?” and “How many revisions do you have to write?” If your students are interested in writing – maybe they dream (like I did) of one day becoming an author – we hope that these videos will inspire.

And we also have a new Bookshop page, which supports indie booksellers, yet allows you to order all our spooky books online.


News, And Fun

Last week Mr. Schu of Watch. Connect. Read. featured the release of the cover of my next book, Carry Me Home. The novel launches August 24, 2021 from Simon & Schuster.

I love this cover and am thrilled to be able to bring it to you now:




Carry Me Home is the story of Lulu and her little sister, and the disappearance of their dad, when they are in a difficult situation. This book is very close to my heart.

And here’s a little interview I did with Kim Ventrella, of my Spooky Middle Grade authors group!


Thrill in Yellowstone National Park

As you all know, I’m the author of Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone, which mainly focusses on the geologic aspects of this super volcano.

This past weekend, I had the thrill of a lifetime. We took a short trip into the Park (mask-wearing and distancing, of course), and just by chance arrived at Norris Geyser Basin, when the unexpected happened. Steamboat Geyser, the largest in height in the world, erupted, a major eruption. We estimate that at its height it topped about 250 feet, smaller than some but still enormous. And what a lot of water!!

The video here is about 20 minutes into the eruption, which was still going strong when we left. The sound is amazing, so be sure your sound is turned up. We could feel the vibrations under our feet.

I’ve been coming to this geyser basin for over 20 years, hoping to catch an eruption of Steamboat, so this was a complete thrill.

We also managed to watch two bull elks sparring with horns locked, heard elk bugling in the hills (what an eerie sound!), and experience the beauty of yellow aspen, snow on the mountains, and crisp fall weather.

If you can’t get to Yellowstone any time soon – or if you are a teacher or librarian and want materials to support studying the geology of a super volcano – check out my resources on Yellowstone, including videos and teacher guides.