Best Intentions

Remember when I used to blog? A lot? Well. I got out of the blogging habit during the FORGE booktour! ARGH! I’m sorry! I miss you guys!

So I am trying to get back into the habit.

Right now.

I think one of the things that has been holding me back (other than catching up on my sleep) is that I felt as if I had to write a gigunda blog post in which I would mention absolutely EVERYTHING that happened in the tour. And the mere thought of composing such a long post made me need another nap all over again.


I’m going to sneak the highlights of the tour in gradually, if its OK with you. Like this:











This mural graces the hall of one of the KIPP Academy schools I visited in Washington, DC courtesy of the completely amazing people at RIF.

(BTW – you’ve been looking for a reason to bug your Congressfolk, right? Some confused people running the country don’t want to continue to fund RIF, thereby depriving 4.4 million children of books!! YOU CAN HELP RIGHT NOW!)

I’m also going to get back to the regular blogging flow of life in the country, my writing process, my dogs, and whatever else strikes my fancy. So…

1. It has been snowing here since Saturday. This is a Good Thing because

2. I’m working on a new book, but I can’t tell you about it yet because I am superstitious and

3. The dogs say “Hi! Hi! Got a ball! I have a ball! In my mouth. It is big and red and slimy!! I want to put this ball in your hand. NO! I want to rub this ball in your hair so you’ll smell just like me!! Wait! Where you going?”

4. Tonight my heart is with the children of Elizabeth Edwards. They have been through more than their share of sadness.

And here endeth this post. As far as returns go, it’s a little uneven, but as with all writing, it will improve with some daily practice.

See you tomorrow.

The Community That Speaks and Listens

I baked on Monday night. It was a shocking event. When my kids were little, I used to bake a lot, but as life got busy, it slipped off the priority list. But the writer’s group was coming to my house on Tuesday, and I wanted to do something nice.

Why did I make banana bread and apple brown betty (and potato salad, which does not fit in the baking example, but also takes a lot of time)? Because they are my friends. They are are my community. Because sharing food is a ritual bonding that ties one person closer to another.

I wish I could bake for all of you. Because you are my community of people who love reading and writing. Because you are defending the First Amendment and making America a better place. Banana bread for everyone! Thank you!!

As we are at the half-way point in Banned Books Week, I hope you’ll indulge me in a few more links.

Check out the Google map of Banned Books.

The New York Times Papercuts blog looked at the role that Twitter has played in responding to the Republic, MO man’s  attempt to ban Speak. News ran an editorial about the banning. And Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic mentioned it briefly a few days ago.

Risha Mullins (who endured a horrific banning episode last year in Kentucky) has posted an interview with me about my book TWISTED.

The LA Times weighs in on Banned Books Week. is fast becoming the go-to place for discussion about censorship issues. Take a peek!

Remember how I was running around like a crazy person last week? Here are a few pics from that trip.


This is Marion Lloyd of Marion Lloyd Books, a division of Scholastic UK. She is my new British publisher. What’s that she’s holding? The UK edition of Wintergirls. I believe it goes on sale in January, 2011.




Here is the only picture ever taken of me and my agent, Amy Berkower of Writer’s House. We call her Saint Amy at our house.

(note: I published my first 7 books without an agent, including Speak and Fever 1793!)



In other exciting news, we have a new dog in our life. He appeared most serendipitously and has succeeded in charming all of us, including The Creature With Fangs. More details and pictures tomorrow, I promise.

Lightning Round


The clock is ticking ever closer to the start of the FORGE book tour, and the available hours to get everything done by then are becoming perilously few.

So I am going to turn this blog into a lightning round.


Last week: the Scroggins book banning kerfuffle. Lots of interviews. Said “Scroggins” a lot. This made me think of Charles Dickens. That was nice. Quick trip to Denver to talk to independent bookstore folks there.

Weekend: Hung out with Revolutionary War geeks at Ft. Ticonderoga. Drank spruce beer.

This week: waiting for Magic 8 Ball to deliver verdict on possibility of writing time. Hoping I don’t get BH’s cold. Hoping that the chickens lay eggs soon. Writer’s group tomorrow. Possibility of hibernation after that.

Ideas for you:

1. Join the Speak Loudly Community! (Many, many thanks to David Gill and Paul Hankins for setting it up!)

2. Add a SpeakLoudly Twibbon to your Twitter or Facebook profile pic.

3. Contact bookavore if you need an incredibly good copy editor for academic papers or fiction writing.

4. If you live in Republic, MO, drop me a line and let me know how the Scroggins’ banning attempt is proceeding.



What is book tour really like?

A few book tour questions came in last week:

How does the tour work exactly? Are you responsible for paying for everything or does the publisher do that? Do you drive everywhere yourself or take planes?

The upcoming FORGE tour will be my fifth book tour in six years. (This could be why I am on my third suitcase.) They have all been structured along the same lines: lots of plane rides, school visits, super-nice people, and not enough sleep.

The publisher sets up the entire thing. They also pay for it, thank goodness! This is awesome, but not posh. I fly coach. I stay at ordinary hotels. I don’t touch the minibar. Authors are not paid to go on book tour. The theory is that the publicity will boost sales which will someday translate into a royalty check. (The school visits are done for free, btw.)

The publicity department decides how long the tour will be and which areas of the country to visit. They factor in things like the author’s sales history, cities the author has or has not visited before, the other authors that are touring that season, the marketing budget, relationships with booksellers, phases of the moon, and the size of the dark stripe in the middle of a woolly bear caterpillar.

Sometimes I think that darts are thrown at a map, too. (A healthy element of luck and uncertainty makes for the best adventures, don’t you think?)

My tour days are generally structured like this:

Wake up at an obscenely early hour & take hotel shuttle to the airport.

Fly to the next city on the tour. Greet the sun as it rises.

Meet author nanny.*

(Except when there is no author nanny)**

Spend the morning and afternoon giving school presentations. Use time in-between presentations to drive around region and sign stock in bookstores.***

Late afternoon and/or evening give a public presentation at bookstore or a public library. (Between the schools and public appearances, I try to limit it to four presentations a day. Sometimes this works.)

Catch late flight to next city, or crash in hotel near airport.

Next day: repeat.****

* An author nanny is sometimes called a “media escort.” “Author nanny” is closer to what they really do. This is the person who drives the author around and makes sure she is fed and watered at regular intervals. Author nannies are amazing people. Imagine your favorite aunt combined with an emergency management specialist, a doctor, and a large bouncer. That’s an author nanny. I have begged several of them to adopt me.

** Some regions of the country don’t have author nannies. That’s when I rent a car and pray to the GPS gods. Always entertaining.

***This is what I am doing when it appears that there are empty hours in my schedule. That’s why, when friends and other nice people write and say, “Hey! I see you have some free time in (fill in the blank)! Let’s get together for (fill in the second blank)!” I have to politely decline.

****I am told that authors who write for adults have much easier schedules. If this is true then they are weenies.

Yes, it is very hectic. And exhausting. It could not be any farther removed from the reason I became a writer. (What was that reason again? To write stories. Alone. In silence.) As a matter of fact, if you wanted to design a lifestyle that was as far removed from my quiet life in the woods, you would come up with something that closely resembles a book tour. But….


Book tours are fun! Tiring, yes. But way more fun than tiring. I adore meeting my readers and the booksellers, teachers and librarians who have connected my readers to my books. The only downside is that it’s time away from my family. But I have a very, very patient family, and the FORGE tour is so made of awesome, so exquisitely designed that I will get to see several members of my clan on the road. So it’s all good.

Any other book tour questions??

WFMAD Day 30 – your time is your currency

My friend Susan Campbell Bartoletti has a new book out: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.

You should buy it and read it. Five reviewing publications have given it stars (so far). Sue has written a fascinating account of her research trip to Arkansas to attend a KKK Congress. (They don’t call them rallies anymore.) She wrote four blog entries from 8/23 – 26 with details of the trip.

Thank you all for the questions you’ve been sending in. I will keep answering them in the coming weeks.

I’m impressed by all you accomplish: your writing, gardening, running, and family time. Could you discuss what you give up to make this happen -or- perhaps share your typical schedule?

This is an awesome question. And it has a partial connection to Sue.

Sue Bartoletti is one of the friends with whom I’ve had ongoing conversations (for years) about how to balance writing with life. And how to balance life with life.

If I do – occasionally – have my life in balance, it is because of friends like Susan, and Betsy Partridge, and Deb Heiligman, fellows writers and travelers on the creative journey who share my values. Lesson One: Seeking out kindred spirits is one of the most important things you can do for your own spirit and for your writing.

The second piece of my balancing act happened on September 21, 1981. That was the day that Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed as the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States. If you are younger than 40, this probably does not seem like a big deal. It was HUGE.

I heard the news when I was driving home from my community college classes. I was 18 years old. The news was so shocking and amazing and world-changing, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and cried. In an interview later, Justice O’Connor said (paraphrasing here) that women can do everything, they just can’t do it all at the same time. I think that applies to both men and women and I think it is advice that applies throughout our adult lives. Lesson Two: Most of the time you can’t do everything that you want. So you have to be really clear on what your true priorities are.

The third piece of my balance started on a very scary night in a hospital about 12 years ago. My life was completely out of balance at that point and (not surprisingly) I was sick. A lot. One lung infection got out of hand and landed me in the hospital, jacked up on meds that made breathing easier and sleeping impossible.

The old woman in the bed next to me couldn’t sleep either. She spent the entire night talking to the very patient nurse’s assistant who held her hand. The old woman talked about how she regretted all the mistakes she made in her life that had brought her to that point. She was dying and none of her children or grandchildren would visit her.

I kept watching the second hand whirring around the clock on the wall. By dawn, I decided to change the way I’d been living. Because, Lesson Three: You’re going to die. So you might as well take charge of your life while you can.

It did not happen overnight. I was very good at taking one step backwards for every two steps I took forward. But I started to write more. To read more. To vent in my journal. To think about the kind of life I really wanted to live. I exercised. I explored art. I made peace with some broken relationships.

What did I give up? I gave up the bullshit. I stopped volunteering for causes I did not truly believe in. I stopped watching most television. I stopped trying to mold my life into the plastic suburban dream that I had deluded myself into believing would fit me.

And somehow I wound up here.

How you spend your time tells you as much (if not more) about your life than how you spend your money. If you have to dedicate 40 or 50 hours a week to a job that pays the bills, or to the care of people who depend on you, or to your education… or a combination of those three things, then I hope you have the integrity to pour the right amount of energy into those tasks.

Most of us squeeze our writing into the cracks of time that appear around the edges of our major responsibilities. Your time for your writing is precious and rare. How can you protect it?

I promise I’ll post about my daily schedule soon. Right now, you need to get to work.

Ready… “I’m a rewriter. That’s the part I like best…once I have a pile of paper to work with, it’s like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture.” Judy Blume

Set… find a quiet place. If you keep a calendar, pull it out. Just for the month of August. After you read the prompt, turn off the Internet so you can ponder in peace.

Today’s prompt: Answer the following questions:

In the last month:

1. How much time, on average, did you write every day? Every week?

2. What did you have to give up to do that writing?

3. Do you wish you wrote more? What could you have done to make that happen?

Looking forward…

4. Who are your kindred spirits? How often can you get together with them?

5. What are the essential priorities in your life?

6. What habits steal time from your priorities?

7. In anther ten years, which of those habits will have brought you a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life?

8. What do you need to change to create time and space for writing (and other art) in your life?

9. What is holding you back from making those changes?

10. How do you feel about that?