Guest Post: Tracy Marchini Author of Hot Ticket

Today for Tween Tuesday I have a fantastic guest posts from Tracy Marchini, the author of Hot Ticket – a super fun tween book that I’ll be reviewing later today.

Here’s the book summary, so you know what it’s all about:

“Hot tickets could be awarded for doing something cool, saying something funny, or sometimes even just wearing something the ticket dispenser liked. All authentic hot tickets were two inch by six inch rectangles made from this orange cardboard material, with “HOT TICKET” written in big bold letters at the top. Hot tickets first started becoming popular about a month after school started. Then there was this rash of copycat tickets on regular paper, but people just tossed those in the trash. Everybody could figure out it was one of their friends that made it anyway. But an authentic ticket – that was something you kept. Some people had their lockers decorated in hot and shame tickets. Some people kept their hot tickets at home to prevent theft. If I got a hot ticket, I would definitely keep it taped on the inside door of my locker. Right now my locker only had a locker mirror, a picture of Lucy and I from my birthday party at Six Flags and these annoying cat stickers from the person who had my locker before me. Fifth grade did not prepare me for this at all.” Juliet Robinson is the only sixth grader in John Jay Jr. High who hasn’t received a “hot ticket” from the mysterious ticket dispenser. When one of the dorkiest kids in school – Crammit Gibson – receives a ticket before she does, Juliet decides that the ticketing system has to stop. With the help of her best friend Lucy, a Daria-esque Madeline and her almost-crush Crammit, Juliet is determined to climb a few rungs on the middle school social ladder and catch the ticket dispenser once and for all!

One of the things my students always wonder about is what were authors like when they were in middle school.  They can relate to that!  Tracy fantastically gave us a look at her 6th grade self!  Oh can I see 6th graders doing this!
Welcome Tracy to The O.W.L.!
When I was in sixth grade…

My character, Juliet, is very concerned about changing her sixth grade reputation.  And if I was somebody who was known for ruining school dances, vomiting during assemblies and being incapable of completing the school cheer, I’d be concerned about changing my middle school reputation, too!
My sixth grade experience was completely different from Juliet’s, though.  I based John Jay Jr. High (aka Triple J) on the public junior high that my little sister went to.  She had a pretty large sixth grade class, who mostly followed her up through eighth grade and into the high school.  I went to a parochial school, and we stayed with our homeroom teacher for most of the day.  Like Juliet, I wasn’t the most popular girl in sixth grade, but unlike Juliet, my class had only twelve people in it.  So if Hot Tickets were introduced in my class, it’d probably take less than a recess period to figure out who was handing them out!  
To be honest, my little class of twelve caused a lot of trouble.  I was pretty quiet in sixth grade, but if the whole class was throwing their spelling books on top of the closet or declaring an impromptu ‘health class,’ then I joined in, too.  I didn’t get sent to the principal’s office nearly as much as Juliet does, but we had many classroom… incidents.  Here’s one of my tamer stories from sixth grade:

Our school had a lab for the science classes, which was also at one point the art room.  (When it was the art room, and our former art teacher had a headache, we were told to draw our shoe.  I happen to be an excellent drawer of Sketchers brown oxfords.  We then got a new art teacher, who did all sorts of great things – none of which involved our feet.)  
Anyway, one day there was a cage with a live rabbit in the science lab.  The girl’s room was right next to the lab, and I happened to take a peek into it on the way to the bathroom.
The rabbit was not in the cage.
I put my nose up to the door’s window.  The rabbit was loose, and there were droppings everywhere.  On the long wooden tables, on the floor, on the wet sink — it looked like someone took a ten pound bag of brown M&Ms and shot them out of a cannon in the middle of the room.
I ran back to the classroom, threw open the door and announced, “There’s a rabbit loose in the lab!”  Immediately, eleven hysterical sixth graders went rushing out of the classroom.
Our teacher was shouting, “Sit down!  Just leave it alone!”
“But it’s pooping everywhere!” I replied.
“It’s going to get hurt!” one of my classmates said, as they left the classroom.
We gathered around the lab door, and after the class had spent a sufficient period of time gawking at the rabbit, the janitor was called to catch it.  We eventually shuffled back to the classroom, though nobody ever explained why there was a rabbit in the lab to begin with.
Over the course of our junior high career, our janitor would also be called to clean up a dead bird (not our doing), wipe the baking soda from the lab-room-floor-turned-slip-n-slide (that was us) and figure out what, exactly, was causing that disgusting smell in the coat closet.  (It turned out to be a whole carton of eggs, which had clearly gone bad months before.  I think there may have also been a bad grapefruit.)  
In a major clean-up, we also discovered a ten-year-old jar of chicken fat, which was dumped down the girl’s bathroom sink.  (A word to the wise – should you discover a jar of old chicken fat and decide to dump it down the sink, there will be a smell so foul, so raunchy, so indescribably stomach-turning, that you still will not be able to think about it without going a little green fifteen or so years later.  Also, that room will become uninhabitable for the next three days.)

I would tell you more about my sixth grade experience, but I’m trying to protect the innocent… and not-so-innocent.  Besides, who knows what part I’ll use of it in the next book!

OMGosh that is super funny, and its those kind of memories that I could tell Tracy brought into the feel of Hot Ticket making it so fun and real!

Hot Ticket is available at Amazon US (UK or DE), Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  More information about Tracy can be found at or on Twitter as @TracyMarchini.

Tween Tuesday was started by GreenBeanTeenQueen.

Guest Post: Jonathan Auxier Author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes +GIVEAWAY!!

I have been seeing reviews on Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, so imagine my suprise and excitment when I was approached to have the author, Jonathan Auxier, guest post on my blog! But wait there’s more AND to host a giveaway for the book!  I love blogging 🙂
Ok, ok, enough of that – time to welcome 
Jonathan to The O.W.L.

Hey there readers — I’m pretty excited to be here at The O.W.L.!  My name is Jonathan Auxier, and I just wrote a brand-spanking-new book called Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes!  It’s the story of a ten year-old blind orphan who also happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived. Today, I thought I’d talk to you a little bit about where I got the idea for my story.

Most every writer out there gets asked where their ideas come from. Whenever I’m asked this question, I tell people that I get ideas the same way Peter Nimble gets treasure:  I steal them!

Now before you call the cops, let me explain.  Pretty much every good idea is really a combination of older ideas.  I mean, whatare “ideas” other than observations about the sights, smells, sounds, and stories all around us?  My job as a writer is to keep my eyes and ears open, absorbing as many of these details as possible — jokes I’ve read in magazines, funny signs in shop windows, a new word I’ve never heard before.  Eventually these bits will connect with one another to form a story!

And how do I store all this wonderful material?  I keep it in one of these!

Every writer and artist I know uses a journal of some kind to put down the things they see.  Sometimes I have more words than pictures:

Sometimes I have more pictures than words:

 And every once in a while, I have an idea for a new character whomay just end up having his very own book!

It’s never too early to start journaling!  All you need is a pen, a notebook, and open eyes!  Here are some journaling tips I’ve learned along the way:

1) Find the right tools for you.  Every journaler I know has aspecific notebook and pen that they like to use.  Some people prefer a small notepad that fits in their pocket, others like a larger book with plenty of room to draw.  Let yourself experiment to find the perfect book/pen combo that is both convenient to carry around and easy to use.

2)  Stay away from “I”.  An artist journal is different from a diary.  In a diary, you write about yourself; in a journal, you write about everything but yourself!  Just take notes about the different things you encounter — eventually all those entries will become a sort of personal reference library for when you want to tell a story.

3)  Your Journal is NOT a work of art!  Don’t worry about making it pretty — no one’s looking over your shoulder. A journal should get beat up.  Words should be scribbled out. Rip pages out when you need scrap paper. Use it as a seat when you’re on wet grass. When you break your pen, use spit and a jelly bean to draw a picture (I have done this)!

4)  Never leave the house without it.  I promise that the one time you leave your journal at home will be the one time you’ll wish you had it!

5)  Write at least one thing down every day.  It doesn’t have to be a lot — just put something down.  Doing this will keep you in the habit of paying attention to the world around you. Also, all of those short entries will eventually add up to something pretty impressive …

That’s it for me!  If you want, come visit my website,, where I have information about Peter Nimble as well as a collection of pictures from my journals — and feel free to tell me about your own artist journal.  Happy scribbling!

Wow!!! Thanks Jonathan.  That was super cool to hear about and gave me lots of ideas for my own writing!
Now for the giveaway.
If you’d like to win a copy of
Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes:
Must be a US resident.
Must be at least 13
Must fill out form.
+1 for leaving a response for Jonathan 🙂
Ends Aug 11th

Guest Post: How to Write a Review by Paul K. of Launch Pad

A bit back I was contacted by a website named Launch Pad, so I checked it out.  I was very excited by what I found.  What I’m trying to do more of is getting my students to write for real audiences.  One way to do that is to have them write reviews for my blog.  Another way is finding places for them to publish there works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.  Launch Pad is a place for all of that!  Their tag line is: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off.  I hope you check out Launch Pad and if you’re a teacher for ages 6-14 use it as a place to send your students if they want to try being published.

Paul, my contact there who is an editor and publisher also offered to write a guest post about a topic that even I still need help with – writing reviews.  I plan on using it with my students – hope you learn something too!

How to Write a Book Review: Tips from an Editor and Publisher

As an editor and independent publisher, I am always looking for good book reviews written by children and teens from their own perspective. Book reviews are important, because they encourage other young people to read. Good book reviews tell potential readers about a book, without retelling the book. The best book reviews, in addition to addressing scope and literary elements, also offer opinions and insights about a book. Book reviews don’t always have to be favorable, but any opinion- favorable or not- should be supported by a reason. Book reviews can vary in length and style, and here are some tips and guidelines that will help you to write a useful review:

Read the book carefully so that you are able to give a thoughtful and thorough review. As you read, consider using sticky notes to keep track of topics to mention in the review.

The first sentence can “hook” the readers by mentioning the best qualities of the book, for example, “Anyone who likes action-packed adventures and fantasy should read this this book!”

Include a citation, with the author, title, and publisher, at the top or foot of the review. Other elements that are important include the illustrator, series title, if part of a series, date of publication, publisher, number of pages, and price.

The “scope” of the book describes the book without too much summary. To describe a book, include:

  • The genre (adventure, romance, horror, comedy, etc.)
  • A summary of only two to three sentences. Don’t give anything away that will ruin the enjoyment for readers. Adjectives evaluating the book are useful, i.e. “this exciting adventure tells the story of a twelve-year-old hero’s quest…”
  • A sentence or two describing the main character, and if appropriate, supporting characters. Did you empathize with the character? Why or why not?
  • The intended audience (young adult, boys, girls, people who like sports, etc.)
  • The point of view of this book
  • The message or theme of this book, for example, “the main character demonstrates by trying hard enough, anything is possible.”

The review describes your opinion about the book, and should answer some or all of these questions:

  • Why did you like the book?
  • To whom would you recommend the book, and why?
  • Is it well written? Give an example if you can.
  • What would have made the book better?
  • What did you learn about yourself or about the world from this book?
  • Did you change your mind about anything after reading this book? What?

In the last paragraph, or Conclusion, include:

  • What is your overall recommendation? For example, do you recommend this book highly, to only certain types of readers, with reservations, etc.?
  • If the book or its author have won any awards, they can be mentioned in the conclusion.
  • You can include a fact or two about the author in the conclusion.

Keep in mind that you may find it easier to write a review about a book that you really enjoyed. Our best book reviews go beyond the summary or events of the book and tell what the reader really thinks and feels about the book.
Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off!
Publishes book reviews written by kids ages six through fourteen. Read our book reviews at

Guest Post by Maureen McGowan Author of Cinderella Ninja Warrior – Plus GIVEAWAY

Yesterday I posted my review of Cinderella Ninja Warrior.  You can check it out HERE.  Today I’m lucky enough to have a guest post from the author and a giveaway!

I asked if Maureen could talk a little about her writing process.  I’m constantly trying to get explain to my 7th graders the process of writing – that it’s not once and done. 
Here is what she had to say.

My writing process is slightly different for every book that I tackle. That said, I usually start with an overall concept or idea. Cinderella: Ninja Warrior is obviously based on the traditional fairy tale, so my first step was to think about which story elements from the traditional story, if any, I wanted to use. I decided that I couldn’t have “Cinderella” in the title if the story didn’t end happily. I also thought it should include a prince and a stepmother. But beyond that, I let my imagination take over.

One of the things that’s always bothered me about the traditional Cinderella fairy tale is: if life was so bad with her stepmother, why didn’t she leave? Now, I know that girls and women living centuries ago, didn’t have as many choices as we do now, but still… So I started off by figuring out why my Cinderella couldn’t leave. That led me to magic and I decided to make some of the main characters wizards.
I also needed to give Cinderella the skills to escape on her own—I didn’t want her to be saved by the prince. I also wanted the story to include a lot of action and adventure. While thinking about those things, an image of ninjas dropping from trees to attack Cinderella popped into my mind. I thought that was funny—and exciting—and soon I had the overall concept set.

Once I had the basic concept, I started to outline the plot. That is, plan what would happen in the story and when. This part was especially difficult, and especially important, for my Twisted Tales because I knew I’d be including choices for the reader.

For the reader interaction, I decided that I didn’t want “wrong” paths or different endings. I think fairy tales promise happy endings by their nature, so I decided that no matter which route the readers chose, they’d end up at the same ultimate happy ending. I also didn’t want to include “wrong” paths—sorry, you die!—because I figure that a smart heroine, and smart readers, will make smart choices. The way I see things, each day we face choices, and the alternatives aren’t necessarily right or wrong—just different. So I wanted to present reasonable alternatives at each decision point without making it obvious which choice was better. Also, a capable heroine—even if she makes a mistake—should be able to face whatever challenges her choices place in her way.

When I decided on this structure, I didn’t realize what a difficult path I was laying out for myself as a writer! My choices about the book created challenges for me—almost as tough as those facing Cinderella in her magic competition, or Lucette (Sleeping Beauty) when she’s the only one awake and facing vampires in the night.

I had to be very careful to ensure the key story elements either: occurred in the common sections; or occurred in each alternate path differently, but with similar outcomes. Confusing. I know. There were times while writing these books when my head was spinning so badly I didn’t know which end was up!
Once I had an outline, I wrote the first draft of the novel very quickly, in about five weeks. Instead of writing one version of the story all the way through, I wrote both alternatives at each decision point before moving on. (With Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, I wrote one path all the way through first, then went back to write the alternative paths. I’m not sure which method was better…)

After I finished the first draft, I cleaned it up a little and then shared it with my critique partners—other authors with whom I share my work. My critique partners let me know what worked well and what didn’t. It’s hard to accept criticism from others about your work, but I trust them to be honest with me (as I am with them) and they always give me a lot to think about, even if I’d rather not hear some of it at times.
Once I absorbed their criticism, I made a plan to revise the manuscript. Typically, I like to take a week or two off at this point. But in writing these books I wasn’t granted that luxury, because I had very tight deadlines. I got the offer to write this book in mid-October, 2009 and it was due January 3, 2010!
When revising, I try to tackle the major story elements first, things that affect the plot or the nature of the characters. Once I think I’ve got the story down, I start to look at the actual words more closely. I cut out words I don’t need. Make sure my sentence structure is varied—for example that every sentence doesn’t start with the word “she”—and that I’ve chosen the very best word in every situation.

Once that was done I sent it to my editor. (Who had some comments to make, too.)

Writing and editing a novel is challenging work, but worth it in the end. At least for me.

Thank you so much for sharing! I can’t wait to hear the reaction of my students!

Now for the giveaway!

To Enter:
Fill out the form
US and Canadian residents only
Ends May 25th at midnight CST
If you could “twist” any fairytale which one would it be and why?
I’d twist Robin Hood and have Robin be the one who had to be “saved”!

Blog Tour, Guest and Giveaway: Barbara Dee Author of Trauma Queen

Today I am welcoming Barbara Dee author of Trauma Queen (stay tuned for my review later today!)  She also has a fun giveaway! 
Barbara has a great guest post on writing and middle school.  Welcome Barbara!
Writing About Yourself In Middle School
Sometimes kids ask me where I get my ideas. They wonder if I’m writing about my own middle school experience. My answer is: No. And also Yes.
Here’s the complete list of everything I’ve used from my own tween years:
My writing journal. Like Cassie in Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life, I wrote in a notebook every day. But I didn’t turn my family life into a fantasy novel, and I never wrote an anti-journal as a protest. However, once I was convinced that my teacher wasn’t reading my homework, so I wrote “scrambled eggs” in the middle of a paragraph, just as a test. And I guess he’d been reading my work after all, because he wrote “SCRAMBLED EGGS? WHAT???” in red ink.
Weird sandwiches. My friend Debbie used to eat pastrami-and-Fritos-on rye bread. In Solving Zoe, the main character eats tuna-and-potato-chip sandwiches every day—until one day she decides, Eww.
A wild friend. When I was in middle school, I had a free-spirited BFF. She was nothing like Francesca in This Is Me From Now On, but she jolted me out of my comfort zone. Mostly in a good way.
That’s about it. What I do use from my own life are strong memories of how I FELT as a middle schooler—all the pain and embarrassment and giddiness of those years are still very real to me. Of course, to create characters and stories I also use my imagination. (Writing would be no fun if you didn’t!)  And I get plenty of ideas just from observing people—Starbucks and trains are my favorite places for eavesdropping.
Let me tell you how I got the idea for my new book, Trauma Queen. One winter morning, I was driving my daughter to her middle school. It was during the annual Spirit Week, when you were supposed to dress in costume. That happened to be Pajama Day, and as we pulled up to the school’s parking lot, a girl got out of the car in front of us. She was wearing pink jammies—oversized, flannel, probably, with some sort of retro pattern.
Cute, I thought.
Then I realized she wasn’t moving. She was just standing there, in the parking lot, hunched over, her arms crossed over her chest.
And you could tell exactly what she was thinking: Wait a minute. It IS Pajama Day, right? I didn’t get the calendar wrong, did I? I won’t be the only kid dressed like this? Omigod, please tell me it’s Pajama Day!
Just then a school bus pulled up, and kids poured out, most of them wearing their pj’s. And as soon as she realized she was dressed like everyone else, her body unfroze, and she ran up to the entrance.
But by then my mind was spinning. What if she’d gotten the calendar wrong, after all? And what if the reason she showed up in pj’s was her mom’s fault? And what if her mom did stuff like this all the time? Okay, but why?  How could it be that her mom was always mortifying her? Wait! How about if….
I drove straight home and started typing.
Memories of middle school mortification + imagination + observation = story.
Now for the giveaway!!!!!!
Trauma Queen fab giveaway! Three lucky winners will receive one copy of TRAUMA QUEEN by Barbara Dee along with a limited edition t-shirt! To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name and e-mail address (if you’re under 13, have a parent enter for you). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 5/13/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 5/14/11 and notified via email.
Barbara is a featured author on a new website called VYou. Readers can submit questions and chat with her! Just go to:
Barbara Dee’s next stop on the tour is YA Books Central at
AND I will have my review up later today! 🙂

Guest Post/Mini Interview Kathi Appelt for Keeper

I’m super excited to welcome Kathi Appelt author of Keeper and The Underneath (which in case you didn’t know won the Newbery Honor!).  She’s currently on a blog tour promoting Keeper.  I seriously could not be more excited to have her on The O.W.L.! As a promoter of middle grade lit, having an author that has won a Newbery Honor visit is like meeting the president! Really!!!

She was kind enough to answer several questions I had for her.  But first if you don’t know what Keeper is about, here’s the summary:

To ten-year-old Keeper, this moon is her chance to fix all that has gone wrong…and so much has gone wrong. But she knows who can make things right again: Meggie Marie, her mermaid mother who swam away when Keeper was just three. A blue moon calls the mermaids to gather at the sandbar, and that’s exactly where she is headed — in a small boat, in the middle of the night, with only her dog, BD (Best Dog), and a seagull named Captain.

When the riptide pulls at the boat, tugging her away from the shore and deep into the rough waters of the Gulf of Mexico, panic sets in, and the fairy tales that lured her out there go tumbling into the waves. Maybe the blue moon isn’t magic and maybe the sandbar won’t sparkle with mermaids and maybe — Oh, no…”Maybe” is just too difficult to bear. Kathi Appelt follows up to her New York Times bestseller, The Underneath, with a tale that will pull right at your very core — stronger than moon currents — capturing the crash and echo of the waves and the dark magic of the ocean.
Now sit back and get ready to learn who Kathi Appelt is and why she writes what she does – Oh and what it was like to find out she had won the Newbery Honor.
Q.  How was it finding out you won the Newbery Honor? Anything about that whole experience and how it affected or didn’t affect your writing.
      I will always chalk up that early-morning phone call from Rose Trevino, the chairman of the committee, as one of the highlights of my entire life.  I remember answering the phone and seeing “Denver Convention Center” on the caller ID and feeling my knees soften.  There was a sofa right next to me, but I was afraid I’d miss it and all I could do was just sit down on the floor and hope like everything that I didn’t shake to pieces before I even said “hello.” 
          I remember the entire committee getting on speakerphone on the other end and calling out, “Congratulations!” and I could barely even speak.  I said something like, “I feel like a princess.”  And I did.  I felt that way, even though I was sitting on the floor in my studio, in my jammies, and wondering if I would ever be able to stand up again.  After I hung the phone up, I had to sit there on the floor for a moment before I could get my knees to cooperate. 
          All those years of working, of reading, of teaching writing, of talking to kids, seemed to crystallize in that one single minute.  And I felt overwhelmingly lucky and grateful too. 
          I wish it, a similar phone call, for all of my author friends, to have that one shining moment (okay, I borrowed that from the NCAA, but I think it’s apt).  It was an amazing moment. 
          And I have to add that getting the call for the National Book Awards felt the same way—like there was glitter in the air.
          Did it affect my writing?  I don’t know.  When I got both of those calls, I was well into Keeper, with a looming deadline hanging over me, so I didn’t have much time to think about it honestly.  But I will say that the experience of it made me keenly aware of the responsibility that all of us who write for kids have, to do our very best.  My agent, Holly McGhee, has a motto:  “The world owes you nothing.  You owe the world your best work.” 
          I think this particularly applies to children.   They deserve our best work.  I have that motto taped up on my desk to remind me about what it is I’m supposed to be doing. 
Q.  Why do you write for middle grade kids as opposed to other ages?
       It’s funny that so many people think that The Underneath was my first book.  The truth is that it was my first novel, but not my first book.  I actually do write for other ages, from babies (Hushabye, Baby Blue; Bubba and Beau; Brand New Baby Blues) to young adults (Poems from Homeroom; My Father’s Summers; Kissing Tennessee).
          I can’t say that I have a preference for middle graders over any of the others, but what I can say about middle graders is that they may be the most generous of all readers.  They’re more likely to stick with a story.  They’re not highly critical.  And they’re more open to a wide variety of genres.  I don’t have scientific evidence to support those claims, only my experience of years of reading to kids. 
          It also seems like those middle graders are really invested in read-alouds.  I love it when a teacher reads one of my books out loud to a class full of kids.  No one seems to enjoy that activity more than those middle graders.  I’m just saying.
Q.  Keeper (as well as The Underneath) are such unique stories – where do they come from?  What was the starting point of the idea through to the end?
      Both Keeper and The Underneath originally arose from incidents in my own life.  With all of my books, regardless of whether they’re a rhyming picture book, or a young adult novel, I find “touchstones” in my own history that have some heat to them.  With The Underneath, it was a couple of things.  One was an experience years ago when my family was camping in deep East Texas and my older son, eight at the time, rescued a little kitten that had been abandoned in the park where we were staying.  He turned the baby cat over to the park ranger who assured him that he would find a good home for the little guy.  But before Jacob (my son) turned the cat over, he held onto him all day long.  I have a photograph of Jacob holding onto that baby cat, and it sat on my desk for years.
          So, I kept thinking about that kitten in the woods.  And then I recalled a dog that my family had when I was growing up, a rather large hound-type dog that my mother found at the shelter.  One day, a small calico cat wandered into our garage and started eating out of the dog’s food bowl.  It seemed like a bad idea on the part of the cat, but instead the dog, whose name was Sam, took to the little cat and they became good friends.  A month later the calico cat had a batch of kittens and Sam became the hound-dog papa, just like my character Ranger. 
          Between my son and the dog and the calico cat, I found I had something to say about who makes up a family.
          Eventually, the character I had created based upon my son was taken out, and the story was turned over completely to the animals.  My hope is that I can find a way to return to that boy someday.  We’ll see.
          With Keeper, I think the same issue of who makes up a family is still at the root of the story, but in this case it began with my experience of growing up along the Texas coast.  My grandmother lived on Galveston Island and so I spent a lot of time there.  She also had a dog—BD.  And one stormy night a seagull blew into her kitchen window.  She rescued it, brought it into the house, bandaged its damaged wing, and soon enough the dog and the gull became buddies.
          So, like the other dog with the calico cat, this story was based upon a true incident.  Such good dogs, yes? 
          I also had a deep desire to write about mermaids.  I think that anyone who has lived along the seashore has considered mermaids here and there.  It’s impossible to stand in the water and not ponder the mysteries of the sea.  And of course, over the years, a whole variety of sea creatures have shown up in stories and legends.  One of the most interesting parts of my research about mermaids was to discover that basically every culture, even desert cultures, have merfolk of some sort in their mythos.  Find a body of water, even a tiny oasis, and it’s highly likely you’ll find a merperson.  In fact, one of the very first incidences ever recorded of a mermaid was in the Nile in ancient Egypt. 
          Each book required draft after draft after draft.  I counted up the drafts for The Underneath and stopped at 30.  Same thing with Keeper.  So I am a dogged reviser.  But it seems to me that writing a novel is sometimes like peeling an onion.  Each go around reveals something else, and more often than not, it’s something that comes directly from my life. 
          It took me a while to realize, for example, that I had named Ranger after that park ranger who assured my son that the little kitten he had rescued would be all right.  Likewise, it took me some time to figure out that Signe in Keeper was related to my own teen mom. 
          And this is what writing a story offers up, I think, the wonder of mixing life with a little magic.  It’s what makes it all worthwhile. 
LOVED to hear all that she had to say! 
Be sure to stop by GreenBeanTeenQueen for the next leg of the tour!
Now if you would like a copy of Keeper, I have an extra copy up for grabs! 
Fill out the form
US only
+1 for meaningful comment on post
Ends Dec 20

Guest Post: Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Today I welcome Lisa Rowe Fraustino author of The Hole in the Wall talking about how this novel came to be – over twenty years!
From Idea to Here in Twenty Years
In 1990, while working on my PhD at Binghamton University, I read Ludwig Tieck’s tale “The Runenberg,” in which a man becomes caught up in a dream world. Or is it real? He discovers that plants, trees, and flowers “are the corpse of foregone glorious worlds of rock.” Gold and gems have spirits. Being tempted by their allure leads the man to a nightmare fate.

At that time I lived in a region of Pennsylvania altered by coal mining. Driving by a slag pile one day, I got the idea of adapting Tieck’s tale into a modern children’s fantasy.

A brother and sister travel by dream to the fantastical Land of the Adri, populated by inorganic rock spirits. The kids discover that their dreamscape is actually a real world occupying the same space as the human world, and that the strip mine in their town is destroying the inorganic spirit world. Of course my protagonists have to save the world by putting an end to the mining. This was the original dissertation idea approved my advisor, Liz Rosenberg.

Ah, but then I got another idea that I just had to write first, Ash: A Novel (Orchard 1995). In 1994 I returned to my fantasy idea and wrote a first draft. I wrote my fifth draft in 1996, several more drafts in 1999, and even more drafts in 2006 before the final 3 or 4 rounds of revision with Milkweed editor Ben Barnhart. And if you’ve read The Hole in the Wall, you know the story didn’t wind up anywhere near where it started. It’s not an otherworldly dreamscape anymore but a real-world science fantasy.

No matter what I plan for them, my characters always take over the plot. They have strong personalities and voices, and they’re constantly interrupting. When I sent Sebby and Barb to the fantasy Land of the Adri, they didn’t fit in. My story felt real when they were bickering with Grum in the kitchen, but fake when they met up with magical gatekeepers and rock spirits. So I decided instead to make the strip mine across the road a big problem for them in the real world, in their own lives.

In the first draft, Sebby didn’t even have an oasis called The Hole in the Wall. Instead, one stubborn old lady named Zoe, the Witch of Adri Gore, had refused to sell out to Odum Research Corporation. She was the gatekeeper who gave Sebby and Barb magical coins that transported them to the Land of the Adri. The first draft also had an annoying friend named Jo-Jo living nearby. He kept getting in the way so I eventually replaced Jo-Jo with Cluster Dogstar. Around that time I also added a big brother Jed, who became central to the plotline…even though he ran away from home.

I wrote the first 1994 draft in the third person, aiming for a wise, trustworthy voice to describe both the real world and the fantasy world. Nice try, but I couldn’t pull it off with Sebby and Barb butting in. Since they had different experiences apart from each other, and they were both important to the plot as I had it then, I decided to let them take turns telling the story chapter by chapter. They did that until the year 2008.
I loved writing in Barb’s voice. She was very imaginative and poetic, thoughtful and descriptive. In contrast, Sebby never slowed down. I wished I could keep both as narrators but in the end I decided that the plot needed one of them to take over. The story went to Sebby, who was more excited about the adventure (Barb would rather have stayed home reading and doing schoolwork). When I had to translate both their sides of the story into one viewpoint, their personalities changed a bit. Sebby became more imaginative, and Barb became more active. I like how that turned out. I hope you do too!

By the way, if you want to learn to write and revise better, I’m happy to share what I’ve figured out over the years. Come on over to my web site and visit “Dr. Lisa’s Class.” Today’s lesson is called “What Drives Your Story?”
Come back later this week for my review of The Hole in the Wall! (and a giveaway!)

And now check out the booktrailer

Guest Post – Kay Cassidy and The Cinderella Society

Today I have the honor of hosting Kay Cassidy the author of The Cinderella Society. I was lucky enough to be part of a book tour for The Cinderella Society.  I loved the book and its message of girl power. You can read my review of it HERE.  Kay’s guest post is a fun look at what books The Cinderella Society would be friends with.  It’s a twist on my Sunday Shelves feature.  Thanks Kay for putting together such a fun post and thanks for writing The Cinderella Society!
Books That The Cinderella Society Would Be Friends With
When Mrs. Foltz invited me to participate in her Sunday Shelves series as part of the official The Cinderella Society launch tour, I was delighted. I love talking about books! To make it fun, I decided to put together a bookshelf of books that The Cinderella Society would be friends. Or, more to the point, YA heroines that Jess from The Cinderella Society would be friends with in real life.
So here are Jess’s fictional buddies, in photo order:
Cammie from I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
If you’ve read The Cinderella Society, you know there’s a lot more to the Cindys than playing Cinderella. Cammie and her spy girl buddies would be the ultimate Cindy weapon in their war against the Wickeds. Plus they’re all go-getters who are smart and funny – right up Jess’s alley.
Abbey from Beauty Shop for Rent by Laura Bowers
Abbey knows what she wants and goes after it, no matter the odds. That’s the same thing Jess does, even when she knows the Wickeds have a fierce advantage. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing for the right reasons and hope it turns out for the best. Score one for the Cindy way!
Phoebe from Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Phoebe is a girl on a mission. Independent, smartly funny, and with a competitive streak a mile wide. Considering that The Cinderella Society sequel is titled Cindy on a Mission, is it any wonder Jess and Phoebe would be fast friends? (Tera concurs, btw – we think they’d have a blast together.)
Kaitlin from Broadway Lights by Jen Calonita
With the worldwide glitz and glamour that lurks beneath The Cinderella Society’s high school exterior, Kaitlin would be right at home. She’s smart, has a good heart, and keeps her sense of who she is despite being Hollywood’s It girl. Total buddy material for Jess and the Cindys.

Sophie from Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Not only is Sophie hilarious, but she’s also a fellow outcast like Jess. She doesn’t let it get her down, though, and always remembers who she is no matter what her fiendish classmates might say. She knows that unconditional friendship is worth more than all the superficial buddy moments in the world. Rachel and I joke that Sophie and Jess would set the world on fire if there were ever together. (In Sophie’s case, it might be accidental!)
Nora from Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Nora is smart, tough, and no nonsense. Plus, she’s a little too curious for her own good when given the right temptation. 🙂 Sounds like Jess, right? Definitely a Cindy match.
Desi from Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
Desi knows what it feels like to be on the outskirts of popularity. She also discovers she’s a lot tougher than she ever gave herself credit for. Jess has to learn those same lessons too. If Desi were a Cindy, Jess would be pressing Gaby to let her be Desi’s big Sister for sure.
Alex from The Season by Sarah MacLean
Spunky, stubborn, and willing to buck Regency England’s strict traditions to do what’s right, Alex is absolutely the kind of girl Jess would want as a fellow Cindy. And given the history of The Cinderella Society, who knows… maybe Alex was a Cindy long before Jess ever was!
Lucy from My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald
Jess and the Cindys are always looking for ways to make a difference in the world, just like Lucy does with her family’s pharmacy. When faced with a tough situation, neither Lucy nor Jess back down from the challenge. That’s what make them Cindy material!
So there you go! Nine YA heroines who Jess would totally be friends with if they ever ran into each other at a YA heroines conference. (And if there are those kinds of conferences, can I be invited? Please?) Thanks for having me on Sunday Shelves!

Guest Post: LM Preston and CONTEST!!

Contest Extended Until Dec 31!
I originally made a short deadline because of business, but things have calmed 🙂

I’m please to have LM Preston guest post on The O.W.L. today.  She’s going to talk about how she builds the worlds of her stories.  I’m always facinated by how authors create a world so different from our own.


I once participated in a Sci-Fi critique group, where one of the authors asked about World Building. Our leader never expanded on this topic. When this topic was bought up, I pondered what I did when I build the many worlds I create for my books.

When I built the planet Shrenas, in which Aadi and Eirena crashed on, I used the extremes of Earth as a basis for the harshness of that planet. I had a collage of cut out pictures in a folder I kept, and sticky notes of the species of the planet. I loved creating Shrenas. Read below to find out the secrets of a world builder.

I believe everyone has their own methods. However, here are some of mine that help me throughout the process.


I love to travel, and do so very often. Traveling and exposing yourself to different wonders of our world can be a catalyst for the creation of your new world. Always look and observe people, places, art, colors, temperatures, and other oddities that reside in the world around you. It will help you to push your imagination further as you create your own worlds.


Take time to study and observe your surroundings. Things that may not seem interesting initially can become an integral part of the world you create. When you are walking, or touring areas take your time, allow your imagination to go beyond the obvious and ask yourself many questions.

I ask myself many questions about my surroundings. What if the clouds were black, blue, and gray? What if the sun was white? Or lower to the ground? What if the plants had fingers? Push yourself to expand on the world around you and morph them into something different.


I do a lot of research on the internet. Truth be told, I don’t do a lot of reading, I just look at pictures. I tend to look at pictures for a long time, and sit back and see if it fits into my world.

I note what extremes I want my world to have.
I note what rules my world should have.
I note what kind of species could live in that world.
How would a human sustain this environment?
Should I create something artificial in order to allow my humans to live here?


I draw out parts of your new world or cut out pictures of places or things that fit in the world you create. You don’t have to be a writer to do this. Try it and you will realize how fun it can be.


I tend to create these elaborate worlds, and then I take out a lot of the microscopic pieces that I believe the reader can fill in. However, I give the backdrop in the world the reader creates. I note the rules for that world, its species, animals and weaknesses.


Address the main guidepost of your world. How is it powered? Is it advanced? Is it rugged? What’s the climate? What does the land look like? Does it have a sun or moon? Are there animals there? What are the major species? How does your character fit into it all?

When I world build it comes natural to me, because I’ve always loved science and like to spend time pondering its wonders. However, taking notes, going exploring, drawing it out, and making DA RULES has helped me greatly in creating the worlds in my novels.

LM. Preston
YA Science Fiction AUTHOR
Upcoming Releases
THE Pack (Fall 2010)

LM Preston has offered up a copy of the book! So, if you’d like a chance at winning your own copy of Explorer X-Alpha all you need to do is become a follower of LM Preston’s blog and leave a comment with your email addresses.
Contest will end Dec 9th.