Thanks for that suggestion. . . I think.

I’ve just rejected my teenage son’s suggestion for a blog post (“Writing a good book is a lot like picking peas. That’s your prompt, Mom. Go with it.”)

What are you talking about, kid?

and that has made me think about how I decide which suggestions about my writing I accept, which I ignore and which I feel compelled to dig in my heels against and fight until the end of my days.

The first are easy. If I read a suggestion and feel an immense sense of relief (“Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?”) then that’s a keeper. Or if I feel a great, implacable dread (“OH NO. She’s absolutely right. Now I have to kill off two characters and rewrite the last half of the book.) then, unfortunately, that’s probably a keeper too.

Um, yeah.

The middle category is a bit more difficult. These are suggestions that might make things better. Or worse. Remains to be seen. And the only way I know to find out will be to (sigh) try it. Which just makes me cranky enough when I’m tired or on a deadline that my inclination is to dismiss them as wrong-headed. So I have a rule that I’m not allowed to reject a suggestion that might make the book better just because it will cause me no end of trouble. I’m allowed to set a time limit on the experiment. I’m allowed to eat Leonidas Nibs while working on the suggestion. I’m allowed to take a kayak break if I need one. But I can’t just pretend I never heard it.

So how do you know when you’re in the third category where you need to dig in and defend something that’s integral to the story? I don’t know exactly. If I find I’m wanting to play this card often then I worry that I’m just not listening. Writing is a solitary thing but making a good book is a hugely collaborative process and my responsibility to the book means that I have to embrace that collaboration. I really do believe that all this working together creates a better book. That’s what I want. Even when it means a boatload of work after I thought I was done.

But there are times when what is being suggested messes with the soul of the book.


So sorry but I cannot go there.

I am required to protect my book’s soul. There’s really no one else to do that. And to do that, I have to have thought enough about what that soul is that I can explain exactly why I can’t comply and, I hope, help my editor or writing group or critique partner understand better what it is that I am trying to do so that we can, working together, get me there.


Filed under Uncategorized

Getting the word out.


BUNNIES!!! is being printed (I imagine) overseas at this very moment. It’s release date is January 27. That means I have roughly five months to generate some pre-release buzz about it. I find myself staring blankly at the FnGs and wonder what to do next. A website? Facebook page? Postcards? (Done). Trailer? Press release? Standing on a corner saying, “Look at this!” to anyone who happens by? I am not a stranger to marketing and promotion—I’ve worked on many programs and projects over the years as the graphics guy—but I am daunted by what to do for my own book. I suppose the promotion and marketing has never seemed as important as it does when you are promoting and marketing  your own stuff. I don’t know what all I’ll do. I don’t know what kind of participation I can expect from the publisher. I don’t know if I need to hire a professional PR or marketing person. I don’t know a lot. Declan (above) screams the title of the book with unfettered joy and excitement. That’s what I want the promotion to feel like. So….


January 27, 2015 • From Katherine Tegan Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublisher

-kevan atteberry


Filed under Book Promotion, cover art, Illustrators, Picture books, Promotion, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

Gone Revisin’

Wasn’t Tara Dairman’s launch party week fun? And lucky me, she and I are neighbors, so I was able to join in the festivities in person at her launch party in Boulder. I sampled Tree-nut tarts, homemade hummus, and gajar ka walwa, three recipes inspired by All Four Stars. Tara (and Gladys!) charmed the crowd, and the party ended with a long line of readers eager to have their book signed.




And a lucky one of YOU is the winner of a signed copy of All Four Stars! And that winner is:


Congratulations, Leandra!

*     *     *     *


I wanted to write a funny post for today about receiving my first-ever, under-contract, editorial letter from my editor, and the excitement of that moment. (I may have kissed my letter).



I wanted to write a post about how receiving that letter makes everything feel real, and how you have all these fluttery feelings about your dream being realized, and you read the letter in a state of almost disbelief and wonder . . .



Approximately what I looked like upon receiving my editorial letter.


. . . and then the panic sets in when you realize this is for real-for real, and strangers are going to be reading your book, and these revisions are one of your last shots to make your book as good as can be, and–AAAAAGH!

(Just a minor panic attack. Excuse me for a minute while I hyperventilate into a paper bag.)

Okay, I’m back.


My desk pre-revisions.


My plan had been to write this post in diary format, like I’d gone missing while doing revisions and the diary entries would show me progressing from enthusiasm to panic to determined resolve to the voices taking over and me going crazy . . . I don’t know, it was hilarious in my mind. But that’s the thing about writing, right? It’s all brilliant in our minds. Who would ever sit down and dedicate priceless hours, weeks, months, years to craft a story with the intention of having flat characters and a derivative plot and clichéd dialogue? We are all trying to tell good stories to the best of our abilities.



My desk during revisions. . .


But I couldn’t pull off the super-duper funny (no-really-it would-have-been) (probably) diary format post idea because my brain is totally fried, you guys. More fried than eggs at a roadside diner. More fried than a bucket of KFC.  More fried than all the food combined at a state fair.


Mentally speaking, this is about the phase I’m at right now with my revisions. So things are going well . . .


But what I do have for you today are links to some great posts on revision that have helped me along the way in my own process. I’m including snippets that give you a taste, but if you are revising or will soon be revising, I highly recommend reading all of these in full. Without further ado:

From Anna Staniszewski‘s blog post “Lessons from the Revision Cave”:

“. . . since I didn’t have time to let the manuscript sit in order to gain some perspective on it, I read the entire manuscript aloud. This got me to really focus on it again, instead of just skimming over what I’d read a hundred times before, and notice things that still needed work.”

From middle-grade author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford‘s post “How to Respond to a Manuscript Critique/Editorial Letter”:

“Confronting a revision can be extremely daunting because of the Cascade Effect: when you change one plot point it necessitates two more changes so that the plot still makes sense after the change, which prompts still more changes and more and more. Ten or more changes can cascade from a single change, even a minor one.”

From author Lisa Schroeder‘s post, “Monday Motivation on Revision”:

“For me, when I’m deleting old scenes and writing new ones, I’m often scared I’m making the book worse instead of better. And it’s so messy – all that deleting and moving things around.”

From author Jeannine Atkins‘s post “Building and Wrecking Walls of Words”:

“Revision means going back to dredge through what we first came up with. Kicking holes while asking new questions, which lead to still more questions, which stage greater messes, demanding we again haul out the trash and finally tidy.”

From Maggie Stiefvater‘s “On Characters, Knowing Them”:

“I need to know what they want out of life so I can deprive them of it. I need to know what their mortal flaw is so they can struggle to overcome it. I need to know who they love so I can turn that person into a wolf and laugh meanly.”

From Jennifer Hubbard‘s “Avoiding Info Dumps”:

“People around us don’t stop to explain every little thing, every piece of their history, every allusion they make. We are used to gathering information and piecing it together ourselves.”

From Nathan Bransford again, this time on revision fatigue:

“The best way to deal with revision fatigue is to trust in your heart that it’s a very useful and necessary feeling: what better time to turn a critical eye on your book than when you think it is an affront to humanity?”

And from the Emu’s Debuts archives, a post by Lisa Schulman “Real Life: The Nemesis of Revision”:

 “No one ever warned me that the pre-publication revision stage would result in Foggy Brain Syndrome, which gives another disorder I suffered from, Pregnancy Brain, a run for its money. Life has somehow become the dream, and the world of my book-in-progress, reality. I am not fully functional in the noggin’, and I can’t quite explain why.”


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Deadlines, Editing and Revising

Gladys Gatsby is Amazeballs!


Mise en place. Note small, sneaky hand at bottom right.

As I read Tara Dairman’s delicious ALL FOUR STARS, my mouth watered.  I longed to eat all the delightful desserts described therein.  What better way to celebrate Tara’s delectable debut than to eat something scrumptious?  And what better way to honor the indefatigable Gladys Gatsby than to invent a dessert?

And so, in the spirit of Gladys, and because ALL FOUR STARS is, let’s face it, totally amazeballs, I decided to invent some, you guessed it:


The vague vision: The final product would be 1) shaped like a ball and 2) amazing enough to please Gladys.  Maybe it wouldn’t garner all four stars – that’s a little ambitious for the first draft of a new recipe – but perhaps I could achieve three! I initially thought about adapting a Mexican Wedding Cakes recipe, because those things are heaven.  But then the author herself, Ms. Tara Dairman, mentioned something about how she thought amazeballs ought to involve coconut.  So I decided to make…

Spherical mini-lamingtons!  Don’t know what a lamington is?  You clearly have not watched enough episodes of MasterChef Australia.  A lamington is a square serving of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Part 1: Baking

BookTo satisfy a true gourmet like Gladys, I knew I’d have to aim high.  So I opted to use Julia Child’s Biscuit au Beurre butter sponge cake recipe, which I won’t reprint here because I don’t have permission (any good sponge cake recipe will do).

EggYolksI recruited my three-year-old sous chef to help me with the process.   For some reason (temporary insanity?), I let him use one hand to pour egg yolks out of a martini glass and into the mixing bowl (right). Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, nothing broke. Amazeballs proceeded in style.


Julia Child’s sponge cake recipe first asks us to beat egg yolks and white sugar together for several minutes. Then vanilla is added, and it all becomes a lovely, lemony color.  So far, so good – I think that Gladys would approve!


Julia’s recipe doesn’t call for baking powder.  Instead, it gets its magical lightness from the careful whipping and folding of egg whites, which looks pretty gross while it’s happening.


Eventually, the sponge cake gets baked, then cooled on a rack.  If your cake turns out a little raggedy looking, like mine, then take a picture from farther away so that no one will know.  Also, the picture will look all glowy and meditative.  Or something.


Part 2: Balling

I don’t have photos of Part 2, because things got a little crazy at this point.  I split the cake into thirds, to experiment.  One third went into the freezer.  One third went into the fridge.  One third was supposed to remain at room temperature.  Instead, it got eaten.

I used a melon baller to get spherical, bite-sized sponge-cake pieces from the frozen and refrigerated cakes. (For the record, the refrigerated cake worked better, which was not what I anticipated.)  However, it didn’t yield as many balls as I had hoped, and I was running out of time.  Which brings me to the moment where I fell far short of Gladys’s bar:

I went to the grocery store and bought a frozen Sara Lee pound cake.  Oh, the shame. While this choice moves me further away from Gladys-level invention and much closer to Gladys’s parents’ level of cookery, I confess that it was easier (and oddly satisfying) to ball the pound cake with the melon baller.  When I make this again, I’ll do a scratch pound cake rather than a sponge.


Sara Lee pound cake on the left, from-scratch sponge cake on the right.

SaraLeeAnd then the melon baller snapped halfway through, so I had to resort to cutting the rest of the cake into squares.


Part 3: Dipping


Once you’ve got balls of cake ready for dipping, make your icing.  Mix together 4 c powdered sugar, 1/3 c cocoa, 1/2 c warm milk, and 2 tbsp melted butter.  You’ll also need shredded coconut, toothpicks, and a tray covered in wax paper.

(Note to coconut haters like my husband: this recipe still works fine if you decide to leave off the coconut… it’s just not amazeballs.)

ButterCocoaMilk2If you have a small sous chef handy, this part is fun.  Lots of pouring, mixing, and dipping, and no raw ingredients, so plenty of opportunities for licking fingers.



Using a toothpick, dip a cake ball in the icing, and then in the coconut.  Set aside on the wax paper, repeat.

After making a half dozen of these, I ate one and realized that immersing the cake ball in icing is overkill.  With a traditional lamington it works fine, because the square of cake is much bigger, but with these little spheres, full icing resulted in a mouthful of sugar.  Bleh.  Toothpicks2

Since the little mini-spheres were overwhelmed by full dunkage, I decided just to dip their tops in the icing and then the coconut.  This resulted in a better balance of flavors as well as, I think, a cuter bite-sized treat.


Back row: dunked and drenched. Front row: dipped and cute.

And there we have it: Amazeballs!  But would my invention pass muster with Gladys Gatsby, our celebrated sixth-grade connoisseur?

Well, I didn’t want to bother Gladys.  She was busy with the launch of her writing career!  So I took the amazeballs to my family’s 4th of July celebration, where they were a big hit.  I think that, in the end, Gladys would give this dish 3 stars: 3.5 for taste, minus 1 star for using store-bought pound cake to supplement, plus 1/2 star for determination to see it through.

Bon appetit!

(p.s. For more recipes, check out Tara’s blog, where she’s been posting all kinds of yummies inspired by Gladys’s cooking and eating adventures in ALL FOUR STARS!)

Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.

And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Promotion

Cooking Calamities


None of us went here.

The launch celebration for ALL FOUR STARS continues, and nothing says “celebrate” like a few good cooking calamities!

In Tara Dairman’s delightful story, 12-year-old Gladys Gatsby knows her way around a kitchen. But even Gladys has the occasional slip-up. Could anything be worse than the unfortunate blowtorch incident?

Several EMUs have been gracious enough to share their own cooking disasters with us. Judge for yourselves, dear readers, if any of our stories stack up.


Gladys, unruffled by crisis

Lindsey Lane:

You think Gladys’s lighting kitchen curtains on fire was bad? This disaster involved trying to drain the pasta while talking on the phone. Pot slipped out of my hands. Scalding water everywhere. Burned leg. No pasta for dinner. The cellphone was fine. Take out was ordered.


Penny Parker Klostermann:

fried rattlesnake

But they do look like chicken wings.

I wasn’t the cook for my cooking disaster, so maybe it’s more of an eating disaster. About twenty years ago (yes this has stuck in my mind) a group of us decided to attend the largest rattlesnake round-up in the US in nearby Sweetwater, Texas. You’ve probably already guessed what I ate. And let me tell you…rattlesnakes don’t look like chickens, they don’t sound like chickens, they don’t move like chickens, AND THEY DON’T TASTE LIKE CHICKEN! They taste like rattlesnake…and that’s disastrous! Yech!

Laurie Ann Thompson:


You had me at “Broccoli cheese taffy.”

When I met Bernie, we were both working in south Florida on an internship. Our friendship gradually grew into something more, and (finally!) he asked me out on our first real date. He invited me to his apartment for dinner, and he decided to make broccoli cheese soup from scratch, which he’d never tried to do before. It turned into something resembling broccoli cheese taffy, and I couldn’t stop laughing! We ended up sharing an apple, the only other food he had in the house. Three years later I married him, and he still cooks for me almost every night… usually with much more edible results!

Jenn Bertman:


Please don’t feed (or slake) the authors.

It was a summer evening: sunset, Jack Johnson tunes, a glass of wine, making fish tacos. I fry the tortillas into shells, so I had just turned the heat on the oil-filled pan when my husband started talking about rearranging our furniture. I poured a second glass of wine (did I mention I rarely drink alcohol?), and soon enough I was on a buzz-fueled furniture arranging mission. Shortly after the second couch configuration, we noticed the flames shooting up from the stove. The relaxing summer evening vibe became a frantic frenzy of my husband and I slapping at the fire with a dish towel, digging for the extinguisher, shouting about whether to throw baking soda or baking powder on it, until finally my husband dropped a lid on the pan and snuffed out the flames. The lesson to learn here, kids, is: “Don’t drink and fry.”

Laurie Crompton:


Next, we’ll grill some Twizzlers.

As a teen I decided to improve on the classic M & M cookie recipe by using Skittles in place of M & Ms. After all, everything’s better with a little taste of rainbow, right? Erm, no. Apparently when those tasty bits of fruit-flavored magic reach a temperature of 350 degrees they melt. And once melted they infuse liquid candy that gives cookies the power to bend spatulas in half. Literally. Several ruined baking utensils later, I packaged up the (admittedly very pretty) cookies and mailed them to a long-distance friend. I figured he would assume the cookies had hardened along the way, although I never did hear from him again.

Tamara Smith:

Knees knocking, arms full with a bag of ice cream, raspberries, sugar, butter, and pie crust dough that I had just spent an hour making at my apartment…I walked into my boyfriend’s kitchen, ready to make him a raspberry pie for his birthday. The very first birthday I had spent with him. No pressure. Nah. Except I wanted the pie to be perfect. I got to it. Washed the table, spread flour, began to roll out the dough. Gorgeous, thick, buttery dough.

“What are those?” asked my boyfriend over my shoulder.

“Hmmmm?” I asked as I pushed the rolling pin.

“Those white bits?  They look like rice?  There–”  He pointed to the dough.

“Those?” I asked.  I hadn’t seen them until now.  I paused.  Broke off a piece of the dough and looked closely at it.  “Oh those…” My heart began to beat fast.  “Those are…”  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  “Those are…maggots!”

How had that happened?  How could that happen?  What would happen now?

My boyfriend laughed.  He hugged me.  Soon, I was laughing too.  Hard.  What else was there to do?

One more thing.  Celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday…with ice cream and raspberries.

Jeanne Ryan:


Poulet de bottes mouillées

Since “cooking” and “disaster” have often proved interchangeable in my culinary experience, I try to avoid both. However, one day, buoyed by the freedom of no deadlines, I decided to roast a chicken. Only minutes after pre-heating the oven, a foul, rubbery stench filled the kitchen. Apparently, the rarity of my cooking led someone to believe they could dry their hiking boots in the oven. See, I don’t even need to touch food for disaster to occur.

Megan Morrison:

Nobody in my family will let me forget the blueberry burgers, even though I was pregnant. I was trying to be healthy, so I assembled a recipe out of Fit Pregnancy and brought the result to a family party. Everyone expected to bite into delicious, greasy burgers; instead, they found their mouths full of a sinister fruit-meat cocktail. They have never forgiven me.

Jeannie Mobley:


Later that night, this baby became a Transformer.

One of the first meals I cooked for my fiancé from scratch was my mom’s famous and delicious homemade spaghetti sauce recipe. The recipe calls for you to layer meat and garlic and tie the stack together with string, then slow cook it in the sauce. I didn’t have string, so I rubber banded them together. Then I simmered them in the sauce for four hours before serving up something that took me all day to make and looked absolutely perfect. And tasted like boiled rubber. Depending on how you look at it, that meal may or may not have been worthy of a Michelin Star.

Donna Bowman Bratton:

Picture this: It was was a dark and stormy night… Seriously, it was! When I was about ten years old, my family temporarily lived in a mobile home near the construction site that would become our ranch house. On this particular night, my father was out of town, and our community was under a tornado watch. Of course! My mother, brother, and I tried to act like nothing was wrong. Mom was preparing a hot dog feast. Pork-n-beans were simmering on the stove. Suddenly, the lights went out. Somebody fumbled to light a candle, causing eerie shadows to haunt the walls while the mobile home rattled, and creaked, and threatened to careen to somewhere over the distant rainbow. I’m not certain of the events that followed except that one of us dished up a bowl of beans, one of us had the bright idea to tell a scary story, and lighting decided to strike nearby at the precise moment of the story’s terrifying climax. All I know is there was a scream, a flailing of hands, and a bowl of beans on the ceiling. And that, my friends, is why I don’t write horror and I cringe whenever I see pork-n-beans.

So, what’s your best (worst?) cooking calamity? Share with us in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of ALL FOUR STARS!

And remember, you can get your own copy from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Writing and Life

Interview with ALL FOUR STARS cover artist, Kelly Murphy

Yesterday you got to meet Gladys, and today we bring you the illustrator who brought Gladys to life on the ALL FOUR STARS cover. Please welcome cover artist and illustrator Kelly Murphy!

Kelly Murphy

LAT: Thanks so much for joining us this week to celebrate the ALL FOUR STARS launch, Kelly! Can you tell us what the process was like to get it there?

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 1KM: Book covers are some of my favorite illustration projects. It’s that one image that you have to create to entice an audience but be careful not to reveal too much. It’s being able to visualize the voice of the author, creating an important balance between narrative and emotion.

LAT: What do you consider when deciding whether or not to take on a project?

KM: Honestly? TIME. Can I finish this on time. That’s always my number one question. Juggling a few books, teaching, and trying to sustain a remotely healthy sleeping schedule can be pretty tricky. Secondly, I really listen to the editor’s synopsis, and the overall mood they’re looking for. There’s a reason why they came knocking on my door, and I love to hear how the editor made the connection between my artwork and the novel. I had heard about this novel a month or so before it came into my inbox. I was speaking at 2013’s Whispering Pines winter retreat in Southern Rhode Island, where I met with Shauna Rossaro. She hinted that she thought my sense of color and character would be perfect for a foodie middle grade novel. My eyes widened and kept my fingers crossed. I consider myself a rather reclusive illustrator, therefore it’s very rare to meet in person with editors and art directors. So, not only was I very flattered, it was one of the first instances of productive face to face networking for me! I hope my eagerness didn’t scare Shauna too much! And a few months later, I received that happy email!

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 4LAT: I can totally relate to the reclusive networker thing, and I’m so glad you didn’t scare her off! What did you think when you first saw the ALL FOUR STARS manuscript?

KM: ALL FOUR STARS really hones in on the spunk and passion that young minds have. Gladys has this “never say die” approach to the problems set in front of her, and she knows what she really wants. It was great to be able to bring that character into visualization. While a lot of my work typically has a period feel to it, I was excited to work on a contemporary middle grade novel.

LAT: It sounds like you really “get” Gladys. Do you usually read the whole manuscript for a project, or just a synopsis?

KM: Whenever I can, I read the whole manuscript. To really understand and then draw the characters I need to know all of the subtleties. I love imagining the whole world around them. Often I will draw them in their favorite place or bedroom, even if it isn’t described.

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 3LAT: That makes me even more curious! What were the first images/ideas you had? How many initial designs did you propose? How did those get refined over time into the final product?

KM: Gladys has an extremely active mind, and I knew I wanted to have the composition reflect that. My first ideas were of her surrounded by all of the pastries in the story. I was toying with the idea of having the cover framed, particularly by a window. I felt as though not only was it a good compositional device, but it could also reflect Gladys’ struggle to achieve her goals. In essence, stop window shopping and finally walk into the restaurant. I typically like to sketch up to three or four ideas. For ALL FOUR STARS, the ideas were similar, but just presented in a different manner.

LAT: There are so many fun details in the ALL FOUR STARS cover. I keep noticing new things every time I see it. Can you give us any insight into your thinking about some of those specifics: Gladys’ striped shirt, for example, or the swirl that she is sitting on, or the jello molds on the table? How did you make those decisions?

KM: Tara did such an amazing job bringing Gladys to life. I love writers who weave small details about the character throughout the whole book. Most of the details were mentioned throughout the text. Some details are taken from my fascination with French patisseries and all of their delights. It made perfect sense to then subtly invite art nouveau lines and curves to frame Gladys.

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 2LAT: Oh, I love that! What’s your favorite thing about the ALL FOUR STARS cover? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tweak?

KM: I really enjoyed painting the fine details, and working with such a bold color palette. I always wish I had more time to tinker and perfect, but if I dwell too long on what could have or should have done, I may never move on to the next painting!

LAT: I wouldn’t change a thing. I think you nailed it! How was ALL FOUR STARS different from your other cover work, either in your own creative process or in terms of production? Were there any surprises, funny anecdotes, or unusual challenges or frustrations?

KM: Initially, the cover was approved and painted with a confining border, and the text broken in different blocks. Ultimately, each word in the title did become too segmented and did not unify together nicely. It was a good idea to change and manipulate the border to let the whole composition breathe a bit. Overall, it changed the dominant color to a much more pleasing and appropriate butter color.


LAT: Wow, that’s fascinating! What are you working on next? 

KM: I’m already working away on the companion to ALL FOUR STARS! I’ll be finishing up the painting this week!

LAT: I’ll be looking forward to reading it… AND seeing the cover! Thanks again, Kelly. It’s been such a treat to hear the “inside story” behind a absolutely fabulous book cover!

Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!



Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Illustrators, Interviews

Gladys Gatsby Goes Out


All Four Stars is available now! Read on to find out how to win a signed copy.

In honor of the launch of Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars, Gladys has been dining out with various authors across the United States this week. Here’s what she has to say about that.




Stopped by a nearby Mellow Mushroom ( with local dragon torturer Joshua McCune to try out their Holy Shiitake Pie. Holy Shiitake! This olive oil based pie drizzled with garlic aioli and loaded with a multitude of mushrooms (shiitake, portobello, and button) will expand your belly and make you drool for more.

Four stars!

Try it with avocados for a super creamy treat that hits all the right spots.

2014-07-04-21-33-24_decoAlso sampled (and highly recommended): garlic butter and Parmesan pretzels (with a side of beer cheese) and a Hot Mama (must be 21… Mr. McCune assures me of its blood orange deliciousness).

Gladys traveled out to visit Amy Finnegan for the Fourth of July.



Fancy food can be delicious, but it has no business being on a Fourth of July menu! That’s when it’s time for an all-American BBQ! These pulled pork sandwiches—paired with some smoky baked beans, fluffy Jell-o salad, and some deliciously-salty potato chips—can sure set off some fireworks on a warm summer evening.


Then she was off to spend some time with Lindsey Lane.

gladys recipeWow. I think my even my parents could make this dessert. Smokey Peaches. Super simple. The main ingredient is ripe fresh peaches. Not canned. Not the hard baseball variety in the winter. Peel and slice in a bowl. Add a couple of scoops of raspberry chipotle jam and mix it around. Let it sit while you eat dinner. Serve with a bit of ice cream. Yum.

More dessert was served up by Penny Parker Klostermann.

Gladys and Banana Pudding

Diners are sure to go ape over Bubba’s Banana Pudding. Perfectly ripened bananas are blanketed with a dreamy, creamy pudding, then topped with crunchy cookies for a combination that is sure to please.

And by Jeanne Ryan.

Reviewing the Warm Callebaut Chocolate Brownie at 50 North restaurant, Seattle

Gladys - Brownie
Here’s a dessert where all the parts were made for each other, like a warm day in a cozy hammock with a great book. This brownie is a molten chocolate delight served warm with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. The combination melts into a swirl of sweet and salty deliciousness on your tongue. I give it four stars–that have ALIGNED.

Megan Morrison even reported that Gladys  reviewed the airline food while enroute.

20140708_093332Gladys thoughtfully tasted every element of the Hawaiian Airlines complimentary fruit plate, then whipped out her notebook and pen to pass judgment. The fruit was inconsistent – some bites firm, sweet, and ripe, others mealy and bland. The cheese was flavorful but a bit rubbery from waiting around in a plastic sleeve. The crackers were fine. For complimentary airline fare, this was a tolerable plate, and the chocolate-covered macadamia nut provided a real high point, so the final score is 2.5 stars.

And because an intrepid food reviewer goes wherever she has to go to sample and review, Gladys even went to Scout camp with Donna Bowman Bratton.

IMG_6565Gladys went to Boy Scout camp in Arkansas last week to see what kind of food is prepared deep in the woods. For some odd reason, my son and his scout friends didn’t invite Gladys to “eat” with them in the dining hall. Go figure! Gladys concentrated on the delectables created for the Scoutmaster cook-off. Our scoutmaster whipped together a sweet, buttery, fruity desert.


Gladys was both amazed and a tad bit frightened by the unique cooking methods used by Boy Scouts. Alan (that’s our scoutmaster’s name) mixed and layered just the right ingredients into a classic dutch oven. Once arranged, the dutch oven was placed into a hot campfire and covered with white-hot coals. There it cooked for 45 minutes. After very carefully removing the dutch oven from the heat, our contest entry, blueppleberry cobbler, was ready for competition.


Gladys wasn’t an official judge, but that didn’t stop her from taste-testing all of the entrees and deserts vying to win the golden apron.  In the end, Gladys agreed that our blueppleberry cobbler had a perfectly caramelized crust that hinted of butter and smoke, and a sweet and fruity filling that harkened memories of holiday pies and fresh air. A real winner! So many eager eaters scooped heaping spoonfuls of the the blueppleberry yumminess, Gladys almost missed having her picture taken with the finished product.  In the end, Gladys declared that blueppleberry cobbler was a four-star, camp-worthy winner, especially when matched with homemade ice cream.

For more reviews by Gladys and a funny, wonderful story, pick up a copy of All Four Stars. Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a signed copy.

ALL FOUR STARS coverFor more information about this book visit


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch


Good morning! Allow me to (re)introduce myself. I am Jeannie Mobley, one of the founders of EMUs Debuts, and I write historical fiction. Which is why I have been invited to return with a guest post on this great, glorious, momentous day in history.

Yes, my friends. Today, July 14, is Bastille Day! Vive la France!

motto of the French revolution source:istockphoto permission:licensed

Yep. I’m here because  in 1789, on this very day 225 years ago, the French revolution began with the storming of the Bastille. A revolution that would culminate in overthrowing one of the great monarchies of Europe and see the king, and more notably (at least for my purposes here,) the queen guillotined in front of the populace.

Yeah, so. She had a little money. But how much cake could she really be eating with that waistline?

That queen was the beautiful and elegant Marie Antoinette. Beautiful and elegant on the outside, anyway, but so arrogant, and hard-hearted that when she was told that the peasants had no bread, she allegedly replied, “Let them eat cake.”

In truth, it’s unlikely that Marie Antoinette ever said this. The story comes originally from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiographical work Confessions, penned in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was a mere child and the storming of the Bastille was over twenty years away.

Which brings us (obviously) to the Literary History of Cake.

Because while I’ve been trying to educate you on French history, you’ve just been thinking about cake, haven’t you? About the tender sweetness of the layers and the buttery texture. About the chocolaty smoothness on your tongue, and the creamy, dreamy swirls of icing bursting with sugary delight across your tingling taste buds.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right.

The literary history of cake.

We might argue that the literary history of cake begins with that great visionary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and culminates, at least so far, on July 10, 2014 with the release of the





But Tara’s journey with Cake didn’t begin with her debut novel, just as Gladys Gatsby’s journey in ALL FOUR STARS didn’t begin with Cake. In fact, we first meet Gladys preparing a non-cake French dessert, Crème Brulee. I’m not going to give you the details. Suffice it to say, if the French monarchy had had Gladys and her blow torch 125 years ago today, things might have turned out very differently. Vive la France! indeed.

Gladys’s journey takes us through hilarious and astounding feats of cookery, despite her parents demands that she stay out of the kitchen, and on to her accidental assignment reviewing a top New York dessert bakery for a New York newspaper. It culminates not only with cake, but with  mouth-watering moments of literary goodness you won’t want to miss.

Desserts only

As for Tara, her journey has included some hilarious encounters with cake as well. Apparently, she has had a long fascination with cake in literature, claiming Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a favorite book, and the cake-eating-torture within it a favorite scene. Tara’s obsession with cake literature has even led her to reenact this scene. On video. On this very blog!


And she thought when I left the blog she could stop being haunted by this picture.

It’s sad, really, where the literary history of cake takes us, isn’t it?

No. No, it isn’t.

Because it takes us, in the end, to THIS FABULOUS WEEK in which EMU’s Debuts is celebrating the release of Tara’s delicious first novel, ALL FOUR STARS (which went by the working title Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake for a time. Just in case I haven’t mentioned cake enough in this post.)

Congratulations, Tara. Because nothing is sweeter, or bursts more gloriously upon us, than a debut novel. And this one is sweet indeed.

So stick with us all week to celebrate ALL FOUR STARS.

Raise a slice of cake in honor of the event!  Then wipe off those sticky fingers of yours and crack open a copy!  You’ll find yourself cheering the whole time!

What’s that you say? You don’t have a copy?! Well, there are three things you can do about that:   buy one at your local bookstore, check one out at your local library, or LEAVE US A COMMENT THIS WEEK FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF YOUR VERY OWN!!!!!

FourstarsVive la Gladys Gatsby!

FourstarsVive la Cake!




Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Guest Posts, Launch, Uncategorized


by Amy Finnegan

simon thumbs down

We all do it.

Whether or not we are the mean-spirited type, we judge other people. We judge music. We judge food. We judge books. We either deem them worthy of our praise, or deserving of our scorn. Sometimes we just give our targets a “meh” and move on.

This topic has been discussed a few times here on EMU’s Debuts lately, which has led me to think more and more about it, especially as the launch of my first novel approaches. But a recent experience helped me view the compulsion to not only notice, but share what one considers a shortcoming, from a different angle . . . one that doesn’t involve the book that I spent several years writing.

It involves my new home instead.

Two and a half years ago I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out what I envisioned as my dream home, inside and out. Everything I’ve ever wanted. Then I took it to an architect, and over the next 18 months, we pared and pruned, designed and redesigned. It was a very long process and involved much more work than I ever could’ve imagined (much like writing a novel, and getting it published!)

rolled up plansThen a hole was dug. A foundation was poured. Walls were built. I began to see my paper dream house become an actual home. It was beautiful (OMG! Look at what I’ve done!) and also scary (OMG! What have I done?). It was an exciting, exhausting, stressful (!!!!) twelve months of building. I was there nearly every day for several hours, micro-managing every detail so it was truly built exactly the way I wanted it to be.

And FINALLY, it was finished, and it was decorated with everything that my family loved. It was perfect for us. We practically skipped through the halls.

And then, my friends, we opened it up—as we had promised our builder and subcontractors that we would do—to the Parade of Homes, wherein close to 20,000 people walked through every room with little blue booties over their shoes.

Let . . . the . . . criticism . . . begin.

All 27 homes in the parade received written reviews from attendees. Most, as is common with books, were positive. But about 10 – 20% of the reviewers were negative, even scathing. This is what I found interesting though: almost every single house received both praise and scorn for the very same feature. Here are some actual, verbatim, examples:

House A

Reviewer 1: How many different materials can be crammed into a room? Busy, busy, busy. Less is more, more is unappealing.

Reviewer 2: I have never seen a house done so beautifully! Make sure you have enough time to really take in every inch of it . . . every detail is spot on.

House B

Reviewer 1: This house is one of a kind, hands down the best house I have ever been in! Aaaaaammmmmaaaaazzziiiiiinnnnngggg.

Reviewer 2: I was underwhelmed . . . disappointed on all levels.

House C

Reviewer 1: The theater was so bad with sheared fabric on the walls — really!?!?!

Reviewer 2: One of the nicest home theaters I’ve ever seen!

House D

Reviewer 1: Oh. My. Gosh. What more is there to say!?!?! Can I give it 10 stars?!?!

Reviewer 2: Gross . . . . Seriously gross.

In no particular order, these are the homes discussed above:








four chairs house

Do any of these homes look “Gross . . . . Seriously gross” to you? In my opinion, all of them are gorgeous, and certainly what many would consider a “dream home.”

But people have their own likes and dislikes, for reasons that even they can’t always explain. To argue with them is pointless.

I don’t like fish. I just don’t. I don’t like the way it smells, or the way it tastes or feels in my mouth. Friends, and especially my husband, have often told me, “But THIS fish is so mild. It melts on your tongue! Here, you have to try it!” And so I do, and *cue gag reflex* . . . nope. There is nothing anyone can do to MAKE me enjoy the taste of any fish. Ever. (I do not like fish here or there. I do not like it ANYwhere!)

As an author, it’s absolutely, positively, IMPOSSIBLE to write a book that every reader will like. It will never happen in the history of the world. I personally feel that Harry Potter is the best book series that has ever been written. It melts my soul with its goodness. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I laugh and cry in all the same places (and additional ones as well). But online, that series has tens of thousands of one-star reviews. Some people hate it with a passion beyond reason, as though it was written by the devil himself (or in this case, herself).

How can our feelings toward the very same books be such polar opposites? But isn’t that the case with almost anything? Books, music, movies, art, food . . . homes? Everything is subjective, and its value always depends on the eye of the beholder.

I’m saying all of this now because once NOT IN THE SCRIPT hits shelves in October, it will be open to the judgment of the world, and it’s always a bad idea for an author to argue (or even explain particular choices) with his or her critics. So this is my one chance to say: “I invited you into my heart, poured my soul out to you, shared my idea of romance and true love and humor, and if you don’t feel it’s good enough, you’re perfectly free to put the book down, unfinished.”

There was a point during the Parade of Homes—when I was fluffing pillows and such—that a woman looked over the entertainment area in our basement and said, “They don’t even have a pool table! A home like this SHOULD have a pool table.”

It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to approach her and explain why we didn’t get a pool table, but an unexpected thing happened at that moment. I laughed out loud. Totally laughed. Like, all day long. Because it reminded me of the way book reviewers sometimes trash an entire book because the story doesn’t end how they think it should’ve ended. Would this lady have otherwise been super pleased with my basement if we’d had that one missing element? I doubt it. We already have a LOT of cool stuff down there. Among other features: an indoor sports court, a Harry Potter themed theater with signed props and memorabilia from the movies, an arcade, a Beatles themed music room, a ping pong table, and a four-person air hockey table. Not even this was enough to earn her approval.

air hockey close view

The space in question: a pool table we would rarely use, or a 4-person, tournament-style air hockey table?

So why, dear questioning Parade Lady, do we NOT have a pool table? Because we didn’t freaking want one, okay? Would YOU want a $15,000 pool table if you had two teenagers and one eight year old who constantly had dozens of friends running through your basement? Would YOU want a pool table if you knew pizza and pop and caramel corn would end up on it no matter how diligently  you tried to avoid it? Would YOU want a pool table if no one in your family even played pool? Or would you get one anyway just to impress people who thought you SHOULD have one?

These are the snarky types of replies authors often want to give to critics of their work. And it will definitely be difficult for me to resist doing so. There will probably even be times when a review makes me cry and I will wish I’d never even written the book. It’s going to be tough. I’ll have to develop some thick skin. Most authors I know refuse to read their reviews. They cause too much doubt, I’m told. They mess with your writing mojo. They make you feel horrible about yourself. That’s very sad.

So to all you writers out there pouring your hearts out and giving the world a glimpse of your very soul, THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I don’t care if you don’t have a pool table in your book, or in your basement, or anywhere at all! I love that your stories are exactly how they feel right to YOU!


Amy (who doesn’t like fish, but that’s okay! You can eat as much of it as you want to!)


IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).



Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Reviews, Social Media, Writing and Life

Two Brains, Tulips

Last spring I visited a local tulip farm. If you’ve never been, picture a field full of red. Next to a field of yellow, next to a field of pink. On and on, acres and acres of color. It looks like some crazy/enthusiastic artist got hold of a GIANT box of crayons.
Tulip Fields
So I got inspired. That summer I ordered tulip bulbs for my gardens. LOTS of tulip bulbs. When the package came in the fall, I had 300 bulbs to plant. The neighbors, watching you dig hole after hole, say, “That looks like a lot of work.”
The thing about planting bulbs is that they come looking like deformed onions.
Tulip Bulbs
Then you stick them in the ground and suddenly your garden… looks just like it did before you started. NO progress.
Or so it seems.
Winter comes, and still no progress.
Then, along about February or March, there is finally a sign that something is happening. Some tiny, fragile-looking green shoots peek out, often when the weather dial is still definitely set at “Winter.”
Bulbs Sprouting
But then the weather softens, and suddenly those tiny shoots start looking promising. Spring comes, and all your hard work and waiting pay off. You have tulips. Now the neighbors slow down as they walk past your house. “Beautiful,” they tell you.
Tulip Garden
I think writing works a lot like planting tulips. We get inspired by a wonderful flash of creativity. We dig into a brand-new, huge project with dreams of how beautiful it’s going to be. We start to find the words and get a solid beginning going.
And then… frustration. The project hits a wall, and suddenly the first frost comes and kills any progress. So we wait. And wait.
And nothing happens.
The thing is, things ARE happening. But they are happening beneath the surface. Like tulip bulbs need cold before they can bloom, ideas need time to mature. Anastasia Suen, in her book Picture Writing (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003), talks about the brain’s two hemispheres. The left brain is the logical, step-by-step half that uses language. The right brain is the random, imaginative half that works with images or pictures. Both halves are working together to grow this project, but they have different jobs. So while our left half cannot find the words we need, the right half is working on a subterranean level, mulling over what the next step should be.
Then suddenly- FLASH! Inspiration hits, and we become unstuck. The seemingly dead project begins to send out shoots of hope. Spring has come, and the left half now has the words we need for our story to grow and flourish.
I’m currently working on several stories. Some are coming along, but some still need…something… for them to work. I’m looking at my trusted critiquers’ notes: “Needs a more satisfying ending.” “Something punchy and funny.” “Make it more character-rich.” “More story-driven.” When I sit down with my manuscript, though, I’m met with a frosty nothingness. How do I make all those things happen? So I shut down my computer. But my brain, I know, isn’t shutting down. Even though my verbal left brain is currently mute, my right brain will continue to work on these stories subconsciously. I don’t know exactly WHEN spring will arrive for them, but if I keep coming back to them, I hope to have that FLASH when suddenly the words are there, and I can look at my completed project and say, “Beautiful.”
Tulips and Books


Rebecca Van Slyke has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. She’s currently working on something she swore she would never attempt: a middle-grade novel. She also has illustrated five art books for children. Her picture books LEXIE, THE WORD WRANGLER, MOM SCHOOL, and DAD SCHOOL are due to be published in 2015 and 2016. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and a very spoiled dachshund. She wants to be a cowgirl when she grows up. Or a penguin tamer.


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Creativity, Faith, Patience, Writing and Life