Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


On the Verge of 2014

Just on the verge of 2014, I sold another book to Chronicle.  They are also publishing my book, Two Hands to Love You, in May of 2014.  It has been a lovely year with them!
We also added two new pets to our family, Caramel and Colonel.  They have added great joy,
                                                  and lots more clean-up duties, to our lives.

The entire Adams side of our family (plus our son's girlfriend - far left) got together for a family photo at Thanksgiving.  Our severely autistic nephew (far right) was in a good mood and did great for all the photo taking.  It was good to be together again over the holidays.

I'm thankful for family (especially Chris and Scott), warm weather, teaching great students at Cal State, and for friends near and far - some whom I hope to meet in April.


2013 had some big milestones, most notably our daughter’s high school graduation and subsequent entrance into the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon. I did so much anticipatory grieving that the actual transition was easier than I feared. Pictured here at the end of this first semester, it is evident that she is happy.
I hardly had a moment to feather my empty nest before I was off to Boston for school visits and to receive the Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Award for Dreaming Up.

I continued on to NYC to visit publishers and pitch some new projects. This was a fruitful time. I came home to work on sample art at an editor’s request, and am pleased to report that I have a new contract to illustrate a picture book biography of a notable photographer for Christy Ottaviano Books/Holt. 2014 will be a year of further development of writing/illustration projects potentially of interest to other publishers. Doors are open, but I have my work cut out for me to make things happen.


Our Lady of Guadalupe Day

Today is Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. May all of you be showered with book miracles.DD


Three books in '13

 For me, 2013 will be the year of having three new picture books published, including
How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans...
 Arlo's ART-rageous Adventure!
(the first book I both wrote and illustrated)
and Moo!
My own writing and illustrating seemed to get pushed aside too often. If I want to celebrate future books, I need to take a lesson from Stephanine and ramp up my productivity in 2014!


A look back at 2013

For me, 2013 was a little crazy on the personal side, with a move from Oregon back to the Midwest. The relocation is still a bit of a nightmare, but it is fun to think about the highlights of the year where the writing is concerned. Here we go, a countdown:

5. My first-ever book tour for The Fallout. The Fierce Reads tour sent me to eight cities in nine days and I had such a great time getting to know the other Macmillan authors and meeting avid readers at every stop. Here I am at the Austin Teen Book Fest.

4. Receiving the ARCs of my middle grade novel Shipwreck Island, the first in my four book series.

3. I got to see some of the Spuds this year! John and Christy at ALA, and David at The Red Balloon. I am so excited for 2014, and the first ever All Spud Retreat.

2. I wanted to be more productive in 2013. I wrote five entire novels this year (2 MG, 3 YA). Not including all the revisions, I estimate that I wrote about 240,000 words. Three of those novels are under contract, two aren't yet. Fingers crossed.

1. Two days ago, I signed contracts for my ninth and tenth novels with Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. The first is my YA novel The Detour. I drafted it last month, during National Novel Writing Month, and it will hit shelves Fall 2015. Which will be here before we know it... 



I didn't celebrate Halloween when I was growing up in Puerto Rico. Instead I celebrated Día de los santos, Saints' Day (November 1st) and Día de los muertos, Day of the Dead (November 2nd). In Puerto Rico, those two days, we visited the cemetery. Here in Oregon, I love the altars, the yellow flowers, and the singing from other  Latin American cultures, especially from Mexico. Here is an altar in Coravllis, Oregon, reminding us of the struggle with breast cancer:

  Photo: You do not stop being a woman because you only have one breast.



Halloween Eve...

...and that can mean only one thing: pumpkin carving!

Here's my first design of the evening: Scary Scrabble! It's your move...what word are you going to make?

Now it's back to the my carving knives; one down, three more to go!


From My Studio Window

Outside the leaves are changing color overnight and falling faster than I wish with the coming of winter. I would like to hold onto fall awhile longer, but just today a few scattered snowflakes floated across my window. I am spending a lot of time in my studio this time of year. Writing begins at 6AM for an hour before getting my son up and off to school, then back to writing some more, then drawing. It is a fertile time and as fleeting as the last leaves on the trees. I cherish it as much as I cherish those leaves.


Red Wing Calling

This is the tower at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota where I spent the month of September working. The house where our Spud retreat will be held in April is on the left. I am so glad that this is going to happen and so are the people at the Anderson Center. Spudtreat 2014.


I'm back from a great two weeks in Boston/NY, presenting at schools, receiving a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, pitching new projects and spending a day at the NY Hall of Science with future builders. Fun times!

Cow behind the wheel

At the publication party yesterday for my new picture book Moo!, extraordinary children's librarian Kim Faurot gave both the illustrator Mike Wohnoutka and I a cow in a remote control car. Kim shaped each cow so that it looked like Mike's illustration, complete with windblown tuft of purple hair and green cowbell necklace. Even the license plate of the car, MOO!, matched the illustration from the book. Kim is a wonder.


Photos worth far more than a thousand words...

It is no wonder that the potato famine of Ireland has sparked so many stories, both fiction and nonfiction.  After viewing these haunting statues along the riverfront in Dublin, I am convinced there are many more stories to come.


Hispanic Heritage Month

My grandson, Parker

Founders of Proyecto Lea

Reader from Oaxaca


A picture's worth a thousand words...

Our posts this round is a photograph. I missed posting last time because I was on the Fierce Reads tour, a Macmillan promotion that sent me and three other authors and a few publicists on a 9 day, 8 city tour. We were fortunate enough to have a day in NYC, where the fabulous folks at Macmillan threw us a party, complete with champagne toast, at the Flatiron building. And luckier still, my fabulous editor Liz came with us to our event that night in Paramus, NJ. Here's Liz and I at that event:


It May Take As Long As It Wants To Take

This summer I made good progress in my middle-grade novel, but you won't see it in print for a long time. The story is getting deeper and deeper. It's forcing me to think about the importance of people accepting each other's choices, and what should a character decide when confronted with several good choices. But "what the character should decide" it's not up to me but up to the character.  Am I willing to accept her choice? Have she chosen?

It's embarrassing when people ask me what I am writing and I have to say it's the same book. But some stories take time. They have to simmer longer than overnight. I stir the stew everyday. It's bubbling, but not steaming. So, be patient.   


Tag--I'm it!

My friend Tracy Barrett, author of the amazing Dark of the Moon and 18 other novels, has tagged me in a Children's / YA Author Blog Hop, and since it involves answering the question of what I'm working on now, I thought this round of posts on One Potato...Ten was my perfect opportunity.  I'll be tagging three more authors to do the same.

So here are the questions and my answers:

1.  What are you working on now?

I am finally starting a novel that has been brewing in my head since my husband and I first moved into our 1930s log cabin on Braddock Mountain in Maryland.  All the doors (complete with skeleton keys and room numbers) were salvaged from the S.S. City of Atlanta--a steamship which sailed the Chesapeake Bay as part of the Chesapeake Steamship Company from the year the ship was built in 1907 until it was sold for scrap in 1930.  I have two points of view and two time periods interwoven in this plot--that of a contemporary 12-year-old boy living in the log cabin and that of a 12-year-old girl living on the steamship her father captains in 1928. I won't give away any more of the plot now, as I don't want to jinx the novel before I finish it, but I will add a photo of the ship, as well as of the doors and keys in our home.

2.  How does it differ from other works in the genre?

In my research on steamships of the Chesapeake, I have not come across any other middle grade novels that involve life aboard a steamship (other than a number of books about the fateful voyage of the Titanic).  Plus, I think the fact that I have two interwoven timeframes and points of view adds to its uniqueness.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I was a voracious reader as a girl and particularly loved books that allowed me to connect with characters who lived through different periods in history.  Some of those books remain my favorites even to this day.  My goal is to write the same types of books that will hook today's middle grade readers.

4.  What is the hardest part about writing?

For me, the most difficult part is getting the first draft on paper.  Once I have the skeleton down, then the fun begins--the true meat of writing when I can flesh out the characters, setting, and plot.

Here's a link to the lovely author, Laura Bowers, who is one of the authors I tagged to continue the blog hop.  Laura is the author of two YA novels, Beauty Shop for Rent (a "Steel Magnolias for teens") and Just Flirt (a "sweet and lively summer read" PW).  Laura also heads up the bloggers for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI region on "As the Eraser Burns."


What I wrote this summer...

* two picture book manuscripts
* a teaching guide, extension activities, and an ALA blog post for MOO!
* postcards from the north shore of Lake Superior
* lots of to-do lists
* posts on my Facebook page
* journal entries in my diary every night


Something Different

I read a number of interesting books this summer including a preview of Moo! That book does not contain a lot of vocabulary, one word to be precise, but Moo! is full of story, personality, and a variety of punctuation marks. It's written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Mike Wohnutka in a wonderful pairing of friends. It comes out this month. It's a Mooooving story that will have you punning in no time.

The best book I read this summer is the UNWINDING by George Packer.

Anybody who spends time in schools will find this book about what has happened to the United States in the past thirty years instructive. A number of personal stories are woven through the book that personify major changes in the way we live.

An enormous amount of money has been transferred from poor, working class, and middle class families to the very wealthy during this time and Packer does one of the best jobs I have seen of showing how this impacts things like schools, libraries, jobs, businesses and shopping.

One number he provides give a powerful indication of how dramatically things have changed: the six heirs to Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, have as much wealth as the bottom one hundred million Americans. Six people compared with one hundred million. That is directly connected with what's happening in our schools in libraries and THE UNWINDING shows how this happened.


The Heart of a Modernist: My Summer Reading

This summer I got caught up re-reading some of the modern classics of the 20th century. I had not read Virginia Woolf since college, so I was curious what my reading experience would be without the analysis and criticism of the classroom. I found both To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway to be the perfect summer reads. The descriptions of the landscape, the attention to details, the atmosphere of the dinner parties all flowed. Both books condense time in unusual ways that I loved. Here is a quote from a description of To the Lighthouse: 

      A moving portrait in miniature of family life, it also has profoundly universal implications, giving language to the silent space that separates people and the space that they transgress to reach each other. 

I think this says it clearly. This summer I found my modernist heart. 


Historical Fiction I'll Never Forget

I won't be reviewing the books I read this summer because the four have four stars from me. I highly recommend them not just for their elegant writing but also because they are well-researched.

Language as beautiful as a falcon made of Murano glass.



Who can ever forget Hattie?

The most honest book I have ever read.



From the Badlands of South Dakota

Greetings from the Badlands of South Dakota where I have been enjoying a late summer vacation. One of the highlights of the trip is that after a day of hiking in the Black Hills with my friend Gary, I've had time in the evening to do some leisure reading, something I've done very little of this summer. I don't have any strong recommendations, I'm afraid, but the current book I'm reading is GETTING INTO GUINNESS; ONE MAN'S LONGEST, FASTEST HIGHEST JOURNEY INSIDE THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS RECORD BOOK, by Larry Olmsted. As you can probably guess, it's about the folks who make it into the book of records, including the author. Right now, I've got a shot at the world's hungriest appetite. We are heading into the town of Interior, SD, population 67, to find something for dinner tonight. Your spud, who is picking up  an Internet connection from a motel parking lot, David.


Summer Escape

April 1962
Porto Vergogna, Italy

The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly—in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier. She wavered a moment in the boat’s stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing; with the other, she pressed a wide-brimmed hat against her head. All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.

Twenty meters away, Pasquale Tursi watched the arrival of the woman as if in a dream. Or rather, he would think later, a dream’s opposite; a burst of clarity after a lifetime of sleep.

Opening of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
I lost myself in this complex, cinematic novel set in Italy, Edinburgh, and Hollywood. The characters and language are marvelous. I enjoyed it so much I immediately read an earlier book by the author, The Financial Lives of the Poets.


Still Summer for Me

i am sorry to be late on the summer posting round, but I wanted to give you a few highlights.

I started the summer off with a trip to Toronto to meet Joe Morse, the fantastic illustrator of HOOP GENIUS: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball. The two of us hit it off immediately and I loved seeing Joe's art and having dinner with him and Lorraine. We had a fun presentation together at the Central Toronto YMCA. It was interesting for me to hear the process Joe went through to create such excellent images.

The next weekend I attended ALA in Chicago and getting to meet Christy was a huge highlight. I'd been connected to her for years since she was the art director for STRONG TO THE HOOP fourteen years ago. I love the illustrations by Leslie Jean-Bart and have been eager to meet Christy since we started the Spuds. We finally got our chance over spectacular desserts at the Macmillan reception. It was a great initial conversation and a taste of what's to come. The next day Stephanie arrived and it was wonderful to be a trio for a brief time.

The rest of my summer was very good time at my desk working on 25,000 words of FOR EXTREME SPORTS-CRAZY BOYS ONLY. It was fascinating research and I feel like I learned a ton. I enjoyed meeting a bunch of new people who are passionate about what they do and an inspiration to all kinds of people. I sent that to my editor on August 30.

September 1, I received the fun news that HOOP GENIUS has been chosen as one of the Top Ten Sports Books of 2013 by Booklist. Some terrific titles are on the list and I'm honored to be among them.

At the beginning of September, I arrived at Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota, which is one of my favorite places in the world. We have an interesting group of five residents, including a photographer from China who speaks no English, but cooks magnificently. I am working on a new picture book and revisions to a YA novel. Here's a picture of my writing studio. From the room in the top, I can see miles down the Mississippi River Valley, which is helping with ideas.

 I am so excited about the prospect of sharing this remarkable place with Spuds in the spring.


An Awesome Book I Read This Summer

Our topic this round is an awesome book that I read this summer. This wasn't easy, because I was lucky enough to go to ALA and pick up a bunch of ARCs of forthcoming YA novels. Some that I loved: Reality Boy by A.S. King, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, and Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts. But if I had to choose one that totally blew me away? This one.
I know, I know, you're thinking, "That looks rather dull." Here's the thing. I heard a rumor about a few copies of this pre-ARC being available at ALA, and I hunted it down. I asked the lady manning the Dutton booth and she dug one out for me. Then she took the rest, a stack of about ten, and set them out. Now I saw people completely ignore this rather plain-looking stack in favor of colorful, shiny, conventionally bound ARCs.
People? Big mistake. Huge. Because I think Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith will be the most talked about YA novel of 2014. I dragged that six pound stack of paper on the plane with me and devoured it by the time I landed in Boise.
Here's what the summary on Goodreads has to say:

In this truly shocking, grotesquely original coming-of-age, end-of-the-world novel, sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the legacy of his family’s history in Poland and immigration to the United States while narrating the story of how he and his best friend brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, human-sized (six-foot-tall) praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation, stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition

And here is what the shiny ARC looks like:

 Awesome, yeah? I loved this book.


From Paris to Oz: An Extraordinary Summer

I have found through experience, that if you follow your muse and work on the things you love, sometimes life lifts you up and carries you off to new lands and chance encounters never even dreamed of. That is what happened to me this summer. It all began when my book, When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky, became the inspiration for an author residency at the American School of Paris last May.  I met my daughter, Ruby, in Paris and her expertise in dance and choreography enriched the residency with movement while I led creative writing and book-making activities. What a team!

Ruby in Paris
I was able to not only visit the Theatre Des Champs Elysees where the legendary riot broke out during the premier of The Rite of Spring, (the subject of When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky), but I was able, through many amazing and magical circumstances to get a seat and actually view the centennial performance of Le sacre du printemps. 

In front of the Theatre Des Champs Elysees.
Two years ago, I began a story set in Venice. When I began the story, I did not dream of visiting Venice. I researched photographs and read books on the city and used my imagination. Then with the McKnight Fellowship, I decided to visit the city of my story...
View from the Accademia bridge
I spent ten days there walking, floating, photographing and soaking in all of the light, water, weather, sounds, smells and tastes that I could.
Watery streets and gondolas
I met two friends from my past there and together we saw two operas at La Fenice, visited many museums and explored the islands in the Lagoon.

I found the most fantastic bookstore in Venice- books everywhere!
Ten days was not enough. I think I need to move to Venice for a year at least! 

Before returning to Minnesota, I stayed in London for a few days. I filled myself with art by visiting two museums a day, attending a performance of The Tempest at the Globe Theatre, and even visited Circus Space, an amazing circus school in the heart of London.

My favorite publisher and bookstore- Persephone Books!
Circus Space
 Upon returning to Minneapolis, I did not even have time to download my travel photos before returning to painting sets at Circus Juventas. I had Witch's castles to paint, and Emerald City towers, trees, gateways, magical caravans, and poppies too. There were volunteers to help me, but basically I painted Oz for two months, taking breaks to watch the rehearsals of these amazing young performers.

painting the Wicked Witch's castle
Rehearsal and view of Oz partially covering the Witch's castle, and gateway.
When the rehearsals turned into performances, there was no hint of a circus school or arena, instead it was the magical land of Oz with tornadoes and poppy fields, emerald cities and gorgeous performances. I ushered nearly every show just so I could see it from every angle. What those kids create with all of their hard work is truly magical.

Poppy Queen with Emerald City in background. (Dan Norman- photographer)
Triangle trapeze with a house- tornado. (Joey McEachron- photographer)
4 man high in Teeterboard- Emerald City (Dan Norman-photographer)
Cooper, my son as the Tin Man, on Cyr Wheel (Joey McEachron, photographer)
And now it is fall-- or nearly there. My son has started his final year of high school and will soon begin classes at Circus Juventas again. My daughter is returning to Europe, via Iceland. My husband continues writing his novels. And I am returning to new stories, but that is another story.