An EMU’s Quiz, Inspired by TALKER 25

Here we are, the fourth day into our launch party for Joshua McCune’s debut novel, TALKER 25.  If you like dragons, intense action, high-stakes plots, and compelling characters, you’re gonna love this book for teen and adult readers. But, for today’s post here on EMU’s Debuts, it’s time for a launch party game inspired by some of the Talker 25 story elements. The game, or quiz, is part truth-or dare and part fantasy free-for-all. Our own Emu debut authors had fun coming up with clever, and revealing responses. Seriously, you might learn something revelatory about one of these brilliant folk while we pique your interest in TALKER 25. Our celebrated author of the hour, Josh McCune, even chimed in with his own self-restrained responses.  And I do mean restrained because he is, after all, the dragon master of TALKER 25.

Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?


1.) Talker 25 begins with a high school prank gone very, very wrong. What kind of high school pranks did you or your friends try to pull? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell.)

ADI RULE   My class pulled a “prank” on our Headmaster at graduation. Each graduate handed him a marble when they went in for the diploma/handshake. He just kept putting them in his pockets. There were 110 of us. LOL? 

LAURIE ANN THOMPSON   None, that I can remember. How boring, eh?

TARA DAIRMAN   Ha–I think that Melissa (in Talker 25) has a much more exciting high school life than I did! I honestly can’t remember any pranks. Does dressing identically to my best friend (we already sort of looked alike) to confuse the teachers count? :)

REBECCA VANSLYKE    High school pranks? I was always the shy new kid (three different high schools), so not so much in high school. However one school-related prank was when I was teaching at an old school with a leaky roof. My next-door teaching partner had a notorious leak, and it would happen during, or even after, a rainy day. She always had a bucket under the leak. So one morning I got there early and filled the bucket just a BIT more than was there. The same for the next two weeks. Every day there would be more and more water in the bucket. Soon the custodian was climbing up the ladder, feeling the ceiling panels. Then the custodian AND the principal would be up the ladder. On the last day of school I planned to bring in a goldfish to put in the bucket as the coup de grace. But, sadly, I got busted. The custodian got there before I did one morning, checked the bucket, and knew something was up when it was nearly to the top later on.

Post script: That summer we got a new roof. I take full credit. J

LINDSEY LANE    Oh geez…I went to a girl’s school. I was very compliant. VERY goody two shoes.

JOSHUA MCCUNE    I was a good, shy kid. Lol. I did however once dress up as a monkey and jump out of a box for my grandparents’ anniversary to commemorate a real simian my grandparents once had the misfortune of owning. The feces-throwing kind. 

MYLISA LARSEN     I was rather boring in the prank category, I’m afraid. The pranksters came from my husband’s side and they have a code of silence.

CHRISTINE HAYES    High school pranks: I was a really boring teenager, but someone I’m rather close to “borrowed” the huge inflatable Ronald McDonald from atop the McDonald’s across from his high school. He and his friends returned it a few days later when they found out their prank was more of a felony than a harmless way to spend a Saturday night.

AMY FINNEGAN    Kids used to climb onto the roof of my high school pool house and jump through the skylights into the pool. In the dark. Good thing there was always water in it. 

PENNY KLOSTERMAN    There was a popular TV commercial about Scope Mouthwash when I was growing up. (Yes, this dates me!) In the commercial, a pointed note (see below) and a bottle of Scope were left for someone who needed fresher breath.

The note said:

Once in the morning does it.

The Green Phantom 

My friends and I left a bottle of scope with that note outside our math teacher’s door, then knocked and ran. We don’t think he took it seriously because he still had tremendously bad breath…or it could be that “once in the morning” didn’t do.

MEGAN MORRISON    My friends and I were pretty mellow, but we TP’d a few houses in our day.  We also TP’d our high school, as a senior prank.  We were obviously very creative. 

DONNA BOWMAN BRATTON    My current pranking tendencies developed slowly after a rather unfunny high school career. No dragon kissing for me, I’m afraid. I did pull the standard sleepover pranks, though. And a few Halloween pranks that I refuse to disclose until my kids are adults. I don’t want them to get any ideas.


2.) If you could create a dragon of your own, what color would it be? Which gender? What powers would you want your dragon to possess? 

ADI RULE    My dragon would be dark and deadly and enormous and possess all the powers. And I would rule the land from atop its monstrous, spiky head.

LAURIE ANN THOMPSON    I’d create a purple dragon with the power of teleportation. 

TARA DAIRMAN    Ooh, great question. My dragon would probably have to be purple.Gender doesn’t matter, but obviously its power would be to breathe *moderate* amounts of fire, just perfect for lightly caramelizing the tops of creme brulee custards.

REBECCA VANSLYKE    My dragon would be able to change colors, in order to blend in to the background. Actually, these dragons may really exist, since they are so great at camouflage.

LINDSEY LANE    My dragon would be female. Very alluring. As in she sort of puts people in a trance with her presence. She wouldn’t be one color. She would be a chameleon, able to shift colors depending on what kind of allure she needs to create. Ahh but that isn’t her power. Her power is in her voice. Her ability to speak the truth, cut through the crap, eviscerate people’s defenses and still leave them standing but kinder for her evisceration. What actually happens during the evisceration is she exorcises their fear: fear of other, fear of different, fear that holds every -ism and wrong headed way of thinking in place.

JOSHUA MCCUNE    I once wrote a story about an aluminum dragon, so I’d go with that.  Genderless of course. It’s a robot after all. It would possess the power of granting me magic writing prowess. 10k words a day :-D

PENNY KLOSTERMAN    Purple and Orange. Female. 

Powers: Ability for her and her rider (me) to disappear. I often say that I would like to have been a “fly on the wall”. I think the ol’ “dragon on the wall” would work just as well. 

While we’re at it, I would like for my dragon to grant one wish a year. I’m trying to be reasonable and not greedy.

MYLISA LARSEN    I did create a dragon for a story once. He was orange. He spoke English but he had an unpronounceable name. So I called him Hank.

CHRISTINE HAYES    My ideal dragon would be purple and horse-sized, so I could ride it around town to run errands. It would have unlimited hidden storage for my vintage junk shopping and could fly over traffic during rush hour. And it would wag its tail like a dog, because that would be adorable.

AMY FINNEGAN    I would create a ferocious female dragon that was translucent and could blend into any background, awaiting her prey. 

MEGAN MORRISON    I’d create a red dragon, because that’s my son’s favorite color at the moment, and I think he’d be pretty delighted by a big red dragon of either gender. As for powers, what’s better than flight?  If the dragon would take us for rides, I’d be happy. 

 JENNIFER BERTMAN    My dragon would be a green, pocket-sized dragon named Kermit with the power to put a smile on your face by singing mellow songs and playing the banjo. 

DONNA BOWMAN BRATTON    I’d create a purple dragon with a wardrobe because I don’t have daughters and sometimes, a mom needs a break from ball caps and athletic cups. My dragon would be female because, well, males tend to mark their territory and I don’t want to clean up “that” mess. My well-accessorized dragoness would possess the powers of time travel, and flight, and shape-shifting, and bionic hearing, and eyesight. Because, you know, she would be an over-achiever


3.) In Talker 25, a dark and twisted television show comes into play. If you were to re-imagine a modern-day reality TV show to include dragons, what would it be?

ADI RULE    American Dragon Idol. I’d love to see blowhard, talking-out-their-backsides judges get incinerated by butthurt, mediocre dragon-singers. That I would watch.

LAURIE ANN THOMPSON   Reality TV? I’m far too serious to watch reality TV (NOT! I LOVE reality TV!!). One of my favorites is So You Think You Can Dance. I think dragons on SYTYCD would be AWESOME!

TARA DAIRMAN    House of Cards–with dragons! Wait, the Underwoods sort of are like dragons already…

REBECCA VANSLYKE    How about Pimp My Dragon? The object is to decorate and accessorize a dragon. The only rule: Don’t get toasted! (And if the dragon is male, that could lead to a spin-off show: Dragons in Drag!

LINDSEY LANE    How I met your Mother. It turns out that Ted marries a dragon and becomes the father to the new race of mankind. Barney is the godfather to every aberration that follows. Robin runs away (Thank god). Marshall and Lily are eaten. (Praise the Lord).

JOSHUA MCCUNE    Is this a trick question? Kissing Dragons is my dream show.  (duh!)

PENNY KLOSTERMAN    Liven Your Lair: Starring the Dynamic Dragon Duo of Design and Décor

MYLISA LARSEN    Can we just feed all participants in reality shows to Josh’s dragons?

CHRISTINE HAYES    The Amazing Race, on dragonback.

AMY FINNEGAN    Dragons vs. Terrorists

MEGAN MORRISON    I enjoy Masterchef, and though he doesn’t need them to augment his powers of intimidation, I can picture Gordon Ramsay sending in his twin dragons (“The Grill Masters”) to roast contestants who fail to produce edible dishes. 

JENNIFER BERTMAN    This is the true story of seven dragons picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when dragons stop being polite and start getting real: The Real World–With Dragons!

Donna Bowman Bratton    I’ve never actually watched Project Runway, but I think it would be a hoot to launch Project Runaway. Contestants who are not fried by dragon-breath, compete to design and create strapless evening gowns, tuxedos, and speedos for the plus-sized dragon and dragoness.


4.) The main character in Talker 25, Melissa, discovers that she can telepathically communicate with dragons. If you had telepathy, who or what would you wish to communicate with?

ADI RULE    Canadian seals. My heart breaks every year. Get the hell out of there. Do not trust the people.

LAURIE ANN THOMPSON    My dog goes into this crazy frenzy of barking whenever anyone leaves the house and anytime two people hug. I’d tell her to knock it off. Actually, I’ve tried to tell her to knock it off, both verbally and telepathically. Apparently she can’t hear me. She’s too busy barking.

TARA DAIRMAN    If I could have telepathy with an animal, I’d have to pick our local prairie dog colony here in Colorado. What are these little guysthinking? And could I convince them to do circus tricks en masse??

REBECCA VANSLYKE    About 18 years ago I would have given anything to know what my baby was thinking. Exactly WHY is she crying? When she had a cold, did she think she’d feel this way for the rest of her life? Does she really think Grandpa has her nose? Do people really disappear during a game of Peek-A-Boo? Nowadays it would still be a cool talent. To walk down the aisles of the grocery store saying to new parents, “He doesn’t like that brand of diapers. They chafe.” Or “She’s hungry.” Or “She wants to go home. She misses the dog.” Call me The Baby Whisperer!

LINDSEY LANE    Who do you think is communicating with the dragon and giving her the knowledge to lovingly eviscerate people’s fears?

JOSHUA MCCUNE   I’d dream walk like Nobody Owens and mess with reviewers heads. Lol

PENNY KLOSTERMAN    This is a hard one. I’m not sure I want to know what anyone is thinking ;-) So I’m going with what I think would be a simple-minded creature. My duck, Mrs. Quackers, is back for the third year in a row. She’s setting on twelve eggs. I have often wondered what she thinks about all those hours she spends on her nest. 

CHRISTINE HAYES    I would telepathically communicate with my dog to stop barking, chewing, jumping, making messes in the house, and waking us up in the middle of the night. Because otherwise he’s delightful.

AMY FINNEGAN    My husband, so he would *at last* know exactly what I was trying to say.

MEGAN MORRISON    My students. Oh, man.  If I could telepathically remind them to sit down, or refocus, or use an apostrophe, or whatever it is they need to do – that would be so amazing.  It would allow me to individualize attention in a totally shame-free, private way.  Kids would really appreciate that.

MYLISA LARSEN     At the moment, I am feeling the need to send a telepathic message to the hog-sized woodchuck living under my barn who just ate 125 bucks worth of perennials for lunch.

JENNIFER BERTMAN    After a day of not being able to understand what “uuuh! uuuh! uuuh!” meant before the tantrum timer ticked down to zero, I’d have to say I’d like to have telepathy with my 2-year-old son.

DONNA BOWMAN BRATTON    Well, first, I’d want to be able to communicate with my newly created, well-accessorized, over-achieving female dragon. Then…hmmm…sometimes I’d like to read my kids’ minds. Sometimes, I’d like to read the minds of animals. Sometimes, I’d like to communicate with trees because they can tell the history of the world.

There you go, folks. I told you it would be a fun game. Now all you have to do is help us throw confetti to celebrate Josh’s launch week. Then run out or search online for your very own copy of TALKER 25. You can find the book at one of these places: Indiebound, Amazon,, or at your local book store.

Remember, today (Thursday) is your last day to be entered to win a signed hardback copy of TALKER 25. To enter, comment on this post or earlier posts from this week.



Filed under Uncategorized

Talker 25, The Evolution of a Kick Butt Cover

Holy Hell!

A Kick Butt Cover

I know the expression is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but we do. We just do. That’s why anyone in the publishing biz from writers to editors to sales and marketing folk will tell you a great cover will sell a book. Particularly a debut book. For debut authors, a great cover will mean the difference between turning off girl readers, attracting boy readers, looking too childish as well as a whole host of perils that writers making black marks on a white page never think about.

Joshua McCune’s debut young adult novel TALKER 25 has a great cover. No. A kick butt cover. Today, on the launch week of TALKER 25, Paul Zakris, Art Director at Greenwillow Books, is joining Emu’s Debuts to talk about how the Talker 25 cover evolved and why he loves it as much as we do.

Paul Zakris

Paul Zakris

Zakris has been designing children’s books for almost twenty-five years. Twelve years ago, Virginia Duncan, vice president and publisher of Greenwillow Books, recruited him to be the art director at Greenwillow Books where he oversees everything from board books to young adult novels. “Because Greenwillow is a boutique imprint, I do see everything,” says Zakris. “I’m not in on the acquisitions meetings but I do hear about manuscripts soon after they are acquired.”

As soon as Duncan gave him the manuscript, Zakris loved TALKER 25. “It’s my kind of book. Sci-fi, dystopian, action adventure with a dark side. A future with dragons in the world and a government cover up. What’s not to love? I like that it’s a boy book with a lot of action. But it’s gritty and dark with a female heroine.”

“Once we’ve acquired a book, we have a jacket strategy meeting pretty early on,” says Zakris. “That’s when we meet with the publisher and head of sales and marketing and we talk about what we want to show. Do we want a character cover? Which one? The girl? Or do we want to focus on the love interest? Or maybe we want to go with something a bit more iconic? We pretty much bring every idea to the table.”

Zakris says he initially focused on the characters. “I went with a tough girl and the three dragon colors.” But the group felt like focusing on a girl might skew the appeal away from boys. “Once I had that feedback, I knew we were headed into a more iconic direction. Except we couldn’t put a dragon or even a dragon’s eye on the cover because dragons on the cover signal middle grade and this is definitely a teen book.”

Sammy Yuen

Sammy Yuen

At this point, Zakris decided to bring in one of the best designers of iconic covers in the business: Sammy Yuen (Remember the cover of Ellen Hopkins’ cover CRANK? That was Sammy Yuen.) “I oversee a lot of freelance designers,” says Zakris. “I may get to start on a project but because we are small house, I have to reach out to many designers. This kind of collaboration is one of the many things I love about my job.”

Zakris gave Yuen the TALKER 25 manuscript, a summary and a few guidelines. “I told him we wanted it to be gritty with kind of a military aspect but also incorporate dragons. He worked on it for a few months and came back with six or seven versions with twenty or thirty comps.”

Yuen nailed it. The logo had a military feel. With a dragon in it. And the distressed metal was the perfect background to suggest grit and war and darkness.

Because the cover was so extraordinary, Zakris looked for other ways to make it pop. “We printed it on foil. In other words, we did four-color print but accentuated with foil so it pops even more. As a result, the distressed metal has more depth and grit. I think the jacket conveys cool and serious at the same time.”

Once the cover was done, Zakris got busy with the interior design elements. He carried the distressed metal background through the section breaks. Also the first word of each chapter links to the logo style. “I also wanted the type to be more adult looking, smaller but still readable. I wanted the font to be high tech looking. The chapter breaks are simple black numbers. It has a really clean look.” Yuen has begun work designing the second book of TALKER 25.  “Sammy has all the elements to play with. It has to relate to TALKER 25 but also be different.”

Who gets final say over a cover design? Is it the art director or the editor or the head of sales and marketing? “Actually,” says Zakris. “Everyone has to be in agreement. There’s a real back and forth in our process. We want everyone to be excited. We want sales and marketing to go to Barnes & Noble with a book cover that they like because it makes it easier for them to sell the book. But all of us want the cover to be great because we think the book is great.”

We, over here at Emu’s Debuts, think this cover kicks some serious butt, Paul Zakris and Sammy Yuen. So go ahead, world, judge this book by its cover because the story that Joshua McCune tells in TALKER 25 follows through on the promise.

Remember: Comment on any post this week, Monday thru Thursday, to be entered to win a signed hardback copy. The winner will be announced on Friday.

You can find Talker 25 online at IndieboundAmazon,, or at your local bookstore.



Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, cover art, Launch

Talker 25 Book Birthday: Name That Dragon!


Welcome to Day 2 of launch week for, and the official book birthday of, Joshua McCune‘s TALKER 25! Available now. Today. AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Fly to your nearest bookstore or order online at IndieboundAmazon, or

Dragons, of course, play a central role in this epic tale. With names like Betelguese the Red Giant and Red Wraith the Specter of the Adirondacks, it’s not hard to imagine whose life would be forfeit if you met one face to face–say, in a dark alley or fighting over the last crab cake at a dinner party.

Do you have what it takes to name one of these mighty creatures? Your prize, should your name be chosen as victor, is your very own copy of TALKER 25!

Here’s a pic for inspiration:


Think you can name this bad boy?

And here’s a link to Josh’s richly imagined alternate reality show, Kissing Dragons. It’s amazing. Tons of inspiration there.

Please enter your name ideas in the comments section. Enter as many names as you wish!  A winner or winners will be chosen and announced in next Monday’s post.

Thanks for playing!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Uncategorized

TALKER 25 Launch Party Kickoff with Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette AND a Giveaway (or more)!

We Emus are thrilled to be kicking off the week-long launch party for Talker 25 by Joshua McCune. Talker 25 is an intense, action-packed YA fantasy set in a not-too-distant future where dragon wars have shaped society.

It’s a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population.

To celebrate the launch of Talker 25, we have all sorts of goodies and interviews and dragon fun planned for the week. Not to mention giveaways! Comment on any post this week, Monday thru Thursday, to be entered to win a signed hardback copy. The winner will be announced on Friday. And there will be more giveaway goodness to come this week, so make sure to check back for additional opportunities to score your own copy.

 Talker 25 is available everywhere tomorrow, April 22, but to hold you over until then we asked Josh’s agent, Ammi-Joan Paqutte, a few questions about working with him and Talker 25.

Ammi-Joan Paquette

How did you come to represent Josh?

AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE: I first discovered Josh’s work when I was browsing online and discovered the first line of his novel, which was then called Kissing Dragons: “When Trish called and invited me to go dragon hunting, I should have trusted my instincts.” Wow! Between the title and the first line, I was more than intrigued. I visited Josh’s website and knew I had to read on further. I sent him an email, and eventually received his manuscript to consider.

What was it about Talker 25 that grabbed your attention?

AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE: What captivated me about the manuscript right from the start was the fresh approach to dragon mythology, and the way an alternate history (dragons vs. humanity) was seamlessly woven into the narrative. In addition, Melissa was a dynamic character that I believed in immediately and wanted to get to know better. I’ve always been a sucker for stories about good people who overcome terrible odds and go on to do great things, and this story hit all the right notes for me.

If you were a dragon, what would type of dragon would you be?

AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE: Oh, that’s a hard one! I think I would be a quietly undiscovered, wise and peaceful dragon, who spends my days in my treehouse lair reading books and eating chocolate. Is that cheating? :)

Is there anything else you want to add?

AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE: Only that if you haven’t yet stopped by Josh’s website, you should head over there right now:!news-and-events/c1pz and check out the incredible book trailer! Talker 25 is an incredibly immersive and moving book, and one that you won’t regret reading.

*  *  *

Thanks, Joan, for taking the time to help us celebrate Talker 25! We Emu’s agree that Josh’s book trailer is incredible. So incredible, in fact, we can’t resist sharing it here:


You can find Talker 25 online at IndieboundAmazon,, or at your local bookstore.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Interviews, Launch, Updates on our Books!

The Real Importance of Conferences 

I’ve attended a lot of children’s literature conferences over the past couple of decades. I’ve been to the SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles about a dozen times. I’ve been to regional SCBWI conferences too numerous to count. I always look forward to them with a frantic sense of excitement. Or at least I did initially. I recall, in the beginning, stressing over what to bring to share, wavering between “This is brilliant,” to  “this sucks! I have nothing good enough to show anyone!” I’d chafe over what clothes to pack for the climate as well as for the social element. I’d redesign business cards at the last minute and then decide to go with my old ones. I was an anxious, nervous—but very excited—wreck leading up to a conference.

notes from a conference

A couple pages of conference notes from a recent conference

What made it easier was seeing old friends there. And meeting new friends. And meeting friends that I’d only known online before. As writers and illustrators we typically work alone and conferences are wonderful breaks from that solitary world. Many friends I’ve met at conferences continue to play important roles in my life today. Even beyond kid lit. I remember sitting with friends in a freezing ballroom or a too warm meeting room, taking copious notes during both keynotes and breakout sessions, sharing insights with a glance and a smile, or a roll of the eyes. I have sketchbooks scrawled with words of wisdom delivered by both presenters and pals, and scribbles and sketches from downtimes. When looking at old conference notes and sketches, I can remember pretty clearly who I was sitting with, and what we might have been discussing when I created them. And just about every one of them is from a joyous time. Besides attending sessions, the time at lunch, or over cocktails, or out to dinner with these people became just as valuable and informative, perhaps even more so, than the sessions and keynotes themselves. Shared experiences with peers are helpful and motivational and come with a large serving of encouragement. In an industry that often hums with pessimism and foretells its own demise, motivation and encouragement are pretty precious commodities.

Over the years, as the conferences began adding up, the breakout sessions and keynotes started repeating themselves. Most of the presenters seem to be from a rather select pool of industry stars and most of the session topics I’ve heard before. Deciding whether to attend a conference, or if at a conference whether to attend a session, sometimes becomes less about the topic or the presenter and more about who else is going to be there. I’ve hardly learned all there is to know about this industry, and I know I benefit from taking similar sessions repeated times. But in the end I know the most valuable parts of conferences to me are the other attendees. They make up this terrific community of kid lit. And the conference brings that community to life.

-kevan atteberry



Filed under Uncategorized

Show and Tell. Like Kindergarten, But With More Judgment.

This is my penultimate post here at the ‘Mus. It’s like leaving Neverland. Just when you’ve figured out the lost boys and the ticking alligator and the pirates who don’t seem to pirate anything, you are exiled forever for reasons you can’t quite grasp except as a kind of vague feeling you’ve done something wrong. Okay, maybe I don’t really get Neverland.

In my defense, these are some of the image results for “Neverland” and “Peter Pan.”


Garter snake.


William McKinley.


Is that a cat? Are that 1970′s man’s legs on backwards?


Peter denying Christ. So . . . close?

***Fun Fact: There’s this Peter Pan comic book at my grandma’s house, and you know how Peter’s usually played by a lady in the musical, right? So there he is on the cover — drawn — and they’ve drawn his boobs in. WHY DID THEY DO THAT? The singing ladies use tight wraps and loose clothing and all kinds of Theatre Magic to appear boyish, and the comics people then go and draw the boobs in anyway, like really obviously? Anyway, no I don’t have the image to show you because it apparently doesn’t exist on the internet, but I’ll take a picture for my ultimate post and then we can all feel various feelings together.***

So. The bones of this post were originally intended for another blog, wholesome and child-friendly, where I’m making a guest appearance to talk about writing. But the post I was working on for this blog involves me reading reviews of my book, and the longer I can put that off, the better, kind of like doing taxes. No, it doesn’t matter if they’re good reviews or bad reviews. It’s like — okay, that’s all going in the ultimate post.

Anyhoo. Writing. We all have our struggles with Craft (I like to capitalize it and pronounce it “krahhhft”), and the stretch between contract and launch is the perfect time for those struggles to be brought into painful relief. My personal source of pain, were I to get it tattooed across my forehead, is:

.llet t’nod ,wohS

I’m sure a lot of writers get to the point where we just want to have the bloody thing inked, waiting to greet us with its pithy, self-righteous wisdom in the bathroom mirror every morning.

“Never say, ‘She was happy,’” our forehead tattoo will remind us. “Say, ‘She danced through the junkyard like a smiling, dancing, sparkle rainbow conspiracy-theorist fairy, the sparkling rainbows of spilled gasoline reflecting off her tinfoil hat.’”

Okay. But, you know, sometimes we should tell also.

“NEVER!” shouts our forehead tattoo. “Go write out Moby-Dick longhand and think about what you’ve done!”

(This is why we SHOULD NOT get the forehead tattoo.)

***Fun Fact: Speaking of Moby-Dick, I made this collage one time when I thought ravenous dragons would improve most things. And speaking of dragons, TALKER 25 IS COMING.***


OK, so readers need to make connections themselves, it’s true. It’s annoying when a book makes you want to shout, “Okay, he misses his freaking dead father! I GET IT ALREADY!”


This is the free crybaby image I found. I can’t stop looking at it. Srsly, really study this horrifying thing. Where are its hands? WHERE ARE ITS EMOTIONS?

But sometimes we — and by “we” I mean, specifically, I — end up writing for psychic readers.

Anyone who’s read E. L. James can tell you there’s a fine line between a feather and a battle-axe. (I haven’t read E. L. James, which is why my Night Elf Warrior totally sucks.) I am so afraid of hitting readers over the head that sometimes I’m not even in the same zip code as them. In my WIP, for instance, I’ve got these beasts of burden. They lope around, they carry stuff, people ride them, and they have feathers. Because they’re birds. Birds have feathers. But that wasn’t clear. I needed to say they are birds.

Now that’s not to say that Show Don’t Tell is one (actually two, for some reason) of the ten worst pieces of writing advice you can receive, as asserted by a listicle that’s been making the rounds this week. It’s good advice. It’s just that telling has these specific times when it’s appropriate, so it’s more like Show And Tell.

I asked my mum what her thoughts were on this, and she tossed me a book she wrote on memoir. It was a special moment.


Here we are protesting something. It’s the little things.

So here are some guidelines on showing and telling, based partially on my mum’s book and partially on what my spirit animal intimated to me (it’s either a bear or an eagle depending on which Internet quiz you believe).


Holy balls, this came out way more terrifying than I envisioned.

Show when you’re in the moment. When the story is happening.

Show one specific instance of a repeated thing rather than montaging, “This thing would happen occasionally.”

Tell information that enhances the reader’s understanding of the moment you’re showing.

Tell insights.

Neither show nor tell actions or information the reader can infer on her own.

What else?


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing

One Hour A Week — Or Less

“I’m allowed to draw for one hour a week,” says my 16-yr-old SAT student. Anime characters look up at me from the pages of her sketchbook, as wide-eyed and alarmed as I am. “My mom says that’s enough.”

Enough for a teen who’s aiming for a career in medicine or law, she means. And what other career would a mother expect her daughter to go into after she pays through the nose for one-on-one tutoring, SAT classes, and weekend AP courses?

Makes sense.

But this student’s work is good, and I can tell she’s sneaked in a lot more than an hour a week to fill up this sketchbook.

“You can’t neglect this,” I tell my student. “If you keep at it, you could do something special with your art.”

But she will neglect it, mostly. She’ll convince her mom to let her take AP Art, but she’ll agree to major in something more practical, and eventually her studies will push out all time for drawing.

Many of the students at the Bay Area tutoring center where I work are barred from creative activities. Declarations like the one above seem to go hand in hand with a question my students ask me all the time: “Why do you work here?” Usually I answer with something to make them laugh. “Haven’t you seen this place??” I exclaim while gesturing at posters of punctuation marks made into cartoon characters.

The real reason I work part time at a tutoring center (instead of full time as an engineer/lawyer/doctor/CEO as falls in their realm of possibility for careers) is that I want to spend a lot of time with my five-year-old and I want to spend a lot of time writing (and–crazy–I actually love tutoring and teaching). Sure, I’d also like to spend a lot of money–but I’m not willing to devote all my time to making it.

When I explain this to my students, I can never tell if they understand it or not. In any case, it’s the right choice for me right now.

Is it a choice I can encourage my students to make?

Well, their parents are paying me to help them get into top colleges, so I should probably keep my mouth shut when I’m not extolling the praises of the UC system.

But when I look through a student’s treasured sketchbook, when she shows me her short stories posted online, I can’t be complicit with “one hour a week is enough for creative endeavors.”

At the same time, I know these students’ parents are trying to save them from the precarious financial situations I’ve been in more than once. It feels irresponsible to say, “Pursue your art! Don’t worry about the money!” when I know how much time I myself spend worrying about money.

I usually stick with a middle road. I tell my students, “You can major in engineering if you feel that’s what you need to do, but you can still write/draw/dance on the side.” This is a lie. Already these kids are being told that their art is at best a distraction. No way they will stick with it when the pressures of MIT come down on them. No way they will seek out classes or mentors or fellow artists while they’re competing for a spot at Google. I imagine them finishing school, completing internships, working out of a cubicle for a few years before suddenly remembering how they used to copy that one character over and over until they got it right. Or going back to that short story they never finished, and wondering how it should have ended.

And then what? Quitting their lucrative jobs in spite of the student loans that hang over them? Maybe they’ll take up sketching again as a hobby. “Just a hobby!” they’ll say as they paper their cubicles with drawings. Maybe they’ll start to lose sleep working on that old manuscript before bed. Maybe they’ll find a way to incorporate animation into their jobs.

Deep down will live stifled horror, or maybe something as harmless as faint regret, at never having developed their talent. And the rest of us will contend only ever with the ghost of their art, wonders never expressed and never observed.

parker photo Parker Peevyhouse works as an SAT prep course instructor and tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also works as a substitute teacher at a K-8 school. Her debut YA novel, FUTURES, will be published by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin in 2015.


Filed under Creativity, Education, Writing and Life

Choosing Writing

IMG_4561The hardest thing for me about writing is not the writing itself, it’s writing through everything life throws your way. Every writer I know–each one of you reading this, I imagine–is not simply a writer. We are daughters and sons, siblings, parents, grandparents, spouses. We are friends. We are pet owners. We work full time, we juggle three jobs, we are struggling to find a job. We are in college, we are going back to school. We are planning a wedding, a vacation, a birthday party, a baby shower. Our cars break down, a tree falls on our house, our basement gets flooded. We get sick, we get injured, our friends and family get sick or injured. We have serious health complications. Our loved ones have serious health complications. We endure loss, both unexpected and long-time dreaded. We are grieving. We are coping. We are exercising, we are moving to a new house, we are seeing the world, we are going home to see old friends, we are having a night out on the town, we are addicted to Breaking Bad, we are walking the dog, we are doing laundry, we are coaching little league, we are keeping up on the news, we want to sleep.

To be a writer, you have to prioritize writing above other choices, through the varied weather of your life, and you have to do that, if not consistently, often enough that you’re moving forward instead of treading water or falling behind. To be a writer, you have to choose writing.

Even in the happiest moments of your life, this is a juggling act. But what about our lowest moments?

In my post “Resolutions, I’ve Had a Few”, I mentioned 2009 was a difficult year for me. I refer to it as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. The bad stretch began with a sick dog and ended with losing my uncle to cancer after a surprising and short battle, with a lot more painful losses and grief and a lawsuit and broken appliances and car trouble and other sucky things thrown in the middle. I’ve experienced challenges and heartache in my life, but never so many difficult things in such close succession. It was the first time I really understood the metaphor of feeling like I was drowning in my own life. Wave after wave kept hitting before I had a chance to fully come up for air and rest from the last one. Once you’ve been hit by a few waves, a mental repercussion can take hold and you begin to fear the next wave, when it will happen, and how big it will be.

2009 could have been the year I gave up on writing. In the beginning, I assumed each wave would be the last, and more often than not I didn’t choose writing. Sometimes because I absolutely couldn’t, and sometimes because I thought, “I’ll just get through this tough spell. I’ll wait until this is resolved. There is enough stress right now without having to stress out over fixing a broken plot.” The problem was, that reprieve I’d been waiting for never came.  I hadn’t written for weeks, then months. There were times I’d sit at my computer, determined to get back to my writing, and I’d feel so distant from where I’d last been with my story. Who were these characters again? What had I been trying to do? It was overwhelming, frustrating, daunting. How did other writers manage this? Maybe I didn’t have the capacity to be a novelist after all.

I sought out advice from anywhere I could get it. What I heard over and over was to write through the difficulties. Keep that butt in that chair. Show up and do the work. This is what professionals do. This is what writers do.

Yes, yes, I’d nod. I’d sit down and face the knotted mess of my novel, determined to get the problems unraveled and everything in order, and another wave would hit and I’d stop writing again. And sometimes there was no wave, only my despair and frustration with myself, and I’d lose myself to a Gilmore Girls binge.

I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud calling myself a writer. I’m here on Emu’s Debuts writing this, so obviously the story has a happy ending. But I want to share this for those of you out there who are struggling to choose writing, who are dealing with that guilt, who might feel like frauds, who might feel like you’re not good enough to be part of the writer club. To any of you in that position I say:

You’re not a fraud. If you want to be a writer, you are a writer. Screw that butt-in-chair, write-every-day advice. You will get your butt in the chair when its good and ready.

In the meantime, here are the things that kept me tethered to the writing boat while the waves crashed on top of me.

  1.  Show up and try. I didn’t show up every day. I didn’t show up every week. Sometimes I showed up but stared at a blinking cursor, or typed a paragraph and then deleted it because it was crap. But I kept showing up and I kept trying, and eventually things got better. Even if it’s been months or even years, it’s never too late to start showing up and trying.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will support your dreams and encourage you to choose writing. The main reason I didn’t abandon my novel is because I had family and friends who believed in my story even when I didn’t, and who believed in me as a writer when I didn’t. And the flip side of this, if a person or environment feels toxic, cut ties or distance yourself. Occasionally there are unsupportive people in our life who we can’t distance ourselves from. Accept those people for who they are and appreciate them for the other roles they play in your life. Don’t expect them to suddenly be supportive of your writing when they’ve never played that role before. Find your support elsewhere.
  3. Stay connected to the writing community. If you’re not currently involved in the writing community, this is actually a great time to put yourself out there. (And by “putting yourself out there” I don’t mean try to work a room. You can be an observer and learn a lot and gain a lot of inspiration from what others say and do.) The writing community can be a very healing place if you seek inspiration rather then shortcuts and connections. This is where organizations like SCBWI or Lighthouse Writers, writing friends, critique groups, and author blogs can be a godsend. (But not all organizations and critique groups and blogs are created equal. Participate in the places that leave you feeling lighter, happier–or at the very least, that don’t bring you down or add to your troubles.) I went to writing conferences, I took classes. Something I did quite often–and this is free and simple and entertaining and gives back to the writing community–is attend author readings at bookstores. So many times when I was feeling at my lowest failure/fraud point, I’d hear an author speak or read a blog post and they would say something that resonated in such a way that it gave me just enough pep to choose writing for one more day.
  4. Read, but read to refuel your creative tank. I read books on craft (The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes and Write Away by Elizabeth George were particularly helpful during this time). I read in my genre. I read my favorite authors in any genre. I only read books that grabbed my attention or entertained me. When life is stressful, reading should be an outlet of fun or relief. Don’t let reading turn into a burden.
  5. Recognize that you are writing even when you’re not “writing”. I may not have made much progress on my revisions in 2009, but I was always writing in one form or another. Anything you write–emails, blog posts, your holiday newsletter, Facebook updates, Tweets, journal entries–you’re exercising your writing muscle. Deliberate your wording, whether you’re painting the right picture, the best way to deliver a joke. Writing doesn’t have to be about daily word count goals, and it’s good to recognize that.
  6. Pay attention to your mental well-being. Get exercise and sleep. Talk to people when you need to. Be gentle with yourself.

Choosing writing isn’t always about typing words on the page. It’s about committing yourself to a goal and not giving up on it no matter the obstacles placed in your way.

Choose writing.



_2001843-122Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.


Filed under Advice, Writing and Life

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Debut

I’ve been getting all kinds of antsy lately, worried that I am supposed to be doing something to prepare for my spring 2015 debut. I’ve been plenty busy with other projects. I’ve sold a second book (woohoo!) and revised another for an interested editor (fingers crossed.) And there are the revisions on other projects, etc, etc. But, there’s something special about this debut experience. A first book is like a first child, right?

Some pre-release duties, like website updating, blogs, business cards, brochures, mailing lists, and library contacts, are predictable. Expected. But, how do we debut authors prepare for the unexpected?


I reached out to some pretty awesome EMLA authors and asked them what they wish they’d known as they approached their debut release and what advice they would give to those of us stocking up on anxiety. I hope you will get as much out of their responses as I have.

What about that title? Jeannie Mobley, author of KATERINA’S WISH (McElderry, 2012) pointed out that authors often lose a beloved original title during the pre-release revision process. Your book will be around for a long time, so it’s important to negotiate, with your editor, a title that you will be proud of. Mike Jung, author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine, 2012) expands on the notion, encouraging authors to be prepared “by writing up some alternative versions that you’ll be able to live with.

How about those blog tours? Jeannie Mobley suggests spreading blog interviews out over time, rather than clumping them all into just before and just after the book releases. Especially close to holiday seasons, and award seasons. Janet Fox, author of SIRENS (Speak, 2012) noted the variations in blog styles: “I’ve found the most value for time in doing a creative blog tour. Not just the answer-the-questions kind, but one that maintains a thread or through-line and informs. For my 1920’s historical, I wrote ten posts on different aspects of the 20’s, and got a huge response.”


Natalie Dias Lorenzi, author of FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2011) says, “If your time is limited, be choosy about which blogs you agree to provide interviews for, and pay close attention to the audiences they reach. For YA writers, blogs that reach book club facilitators, readers and librarians will give you more mileage… For middle grade and picture book authors, reaching readers via blogs is highly unlikely (there are a few, like

“In my opinion, librarian and teacher blogs are the most worth your time (and I’m not saying this just because I’m both, I promise.) I say this because librarians and teachers are the most likely to get your books into the hands of readers…Think of a blog tour as a chance to make your audience aware of your book. Take a look at who leaves comments on a blog–is it mostly other writers, or do other folks chime in, too?”      Psst…Check out the below list of librarian and teacher blogs that Natalie has shared with us! Awesome, right?

School visits rock, but…- Pat Zietlow Miller, author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH (Schwartz & Wade, 2013) says, “School visits are a lot of fun, but they also are a lot of work in terms of preparing them, conducting them and decompressing afterward.” When she was faced with a flood of awkward requests for free school visits, Pat came up with a tactful and professional response similar to this: ‘I love doing school visits! What I charge depends on how long I’m there, how far I have to travel and what type of reading or presentation I do. I’d be happy to talk to someone from the school and see what they have in mind.’


General, but fabulous marketing advice: When it comes to choosing your marketing energies, Cynthia Levinson, author of WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, 2012) encourages authors to go into the process with eyes wide-open: “I wish I’d known how much time it would all take–blogs, presentations, interviews, videos, library and school visits, trailer, website development, teachers’ guide, conference proposals, multiple trips, articles. It was fun but my recommendation is to figure out what you most like to do and focus on those. Feel free to set priorities, and decline the opportunities that cause you stress or distraction. Your book has value and stands on its own. It’s your publisher’s job to publicize the book. Yours is to write the next books.    “Most of all, enjoy! You deserve it.”

 “I also wish I’d known how many people would ask me, ‘So…where can I get a copy of your book?’ says Pat Miller,  “So I made sure to know which bookstores in town carried it.”

“As far as gigs,” says Jeannie Mobley, “try everything the first time around, see what you enjoy and what you don’t and then pare it down to the things you enjoy doing as you continue to promote (or better yet!) promote your second book.”

What about those reviews? They all agree that it’s a good idea to stay busy and distracted while waiting for reviews to trickle in. Rather than fretting, always be working on another book. Mike Jung reflects on the review process in a humorous way: “Reviews can be a mutant porcupine demon of anxiety. But do not forget how awesome it is that your book is published and how awesome you are for having written it!”

Stress? What stress? “Stock up on chocolate,” says Janet Fox. “Hug your dog. The launch day will come and go and you’ll think, ‘what, no fireworks???’ That’s okay. Your baby is out in the world and you made it happen.”

For the finale to this What to Expect post, Jennifer Nielsen, author of THE SHADOW THRONE trilogy (Scholastic Press, 2012), brilliantly sums up the debut experience with a healthy mix of optimism and realism.

Keep your expectations in scale. Some debut books are breakout hits (Divergent, for example), but most aren’t. For most debut books, the Amazon rank won’t skyrocket upon release, or if it does, it’ll slowly fall to a more average number. Most don’t hit the bestseller lists or take home the big awards. Most debut books won’t garner requests to speak at conferences, or even at schools outside of your home area (if that). And I sometimes think we believe that if our debut doesn’t do all of that, that it’s a sign we’ll forever be mid list, or that we’ll never be “big.”

It’s just not true. Don’t let yourself become discouraged. These things only mean that it’s your debut book and it takes a long time for word to get out about an author, even if the publisher is doing mad publicity for you, and even if all the reviews are glowing. The fact that you are finally a published author is HUGE and amazing and wonderful, but don’t be distressed if the world continues revolving as usual on your release day. You might find your book on an end cap at B&N, or not. Don’t worry if half your family doesn’t get around to reading it for a while, or if your kids’ school doesn’t ask to host your launch party for the whole school to attend.

The #1 best thing you can do for your first book is to write and sell your second. Every book raises your profile, which is particularly important with young readers because once they find a book they love, they go on a search to see what else that author has written. Do everything you can to get the word out pre-release, but put your best attention on your next project.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Publishing is like climbing a mountain. There’s no single trail to the summit, and always a higher summit waiting once you reach the one you were aiming for. The only thing that matters is you keep climbing, and with each book, you will. Let go of any worries about where you are on the mountain – because we’re all just climbing too – and just enjoy the climb, as every author should.


*Roben LaFevers and Mary Hershey have a dynamite blog, that’s chock-full of promotional advice for authors.

*And, as promised, below is a list of Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s favorite teacher and librarian blogs. Thank you, Natalie!

K-5 Librarian:

3rd Grade Teacher:

Elementary School Librarian:

Public Librarian (who is now a stay-at-home mom as of a few months ago):

Children’s school librarian:

Mother/Daughter Book Club:

Public Librarians for YA:

Youth services librarian:

Two teachers:

* Former teacher, current coordinator of instructional technology:

* Two teachers of reading (high school):

* These last two blogs co-host a meme called “It’s Monday–what are you reading?” that draws in lots of librarians and teachers, so check out their links each Monday and read the comments.



 Donna Bowman Bratton is the author of the upcoming nonfiction picture books, STEP RIGHT UP! THE STORY OF BEAUTIFULLY JIM KEY (Lee and Low Books, spring 2015) and EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, spring 2016.) She lives and writes in Central Texas.


Filed under Uncategorized

Part Method, Part Madness: Luring in a Good Idea


“Where do you get your ideas?”

 Man, I hate that question. Not because I’m jealously guarding writerly secrets. Not because I haven’t thought about it. A lot. Just because when I try to answer that question honestly, I babble.

Here’s the thing. Ideas are strange creatures. I know they’re out there. I see them out of the corner of my eye. But it might be in the grocery store. Or in the woods. Or looking at me from the window of a passing bus. Ideas don’t seem to have an established, identifiable habitat. Or habits. Sometimes they’re out wandering at 2 AM. Sometimes they refuse to show up at all until sleep needs have been lavishly met. They eat chocolate. No, grapefruit. Spicy fish?

It’s a puzzle. I can’t give a satisfying, tidy answer. But here are a few things that work for me.

Show up at your desk. And get out of the house.

 Ideas like to know that there’s a place for them. Having a regular writing schedule let’s them know that when they show up, they’ll be treated with respect and given the warmest spot by the fire. They tend to show up if they know you’ll be there to open the door for them.

Until. . .they don’t. If for three or four days, I’ve been showing up and the ideas haven’t, if I’m starting to notice this fact and get a wee bit wound up about it, it’s time to get out of the house. Strap on the snowshoes or load the kayak on the car. Go into town. Do something I don’t usually do. Ideas like to slip in unnoticed. So give them that chance. And then get back to your desk.

Really think about form. No, quit thinking so much.

 Ideas come during times when I’m thinking carefully about some element of the picture book form. For example, I’m in love with the page turns in picture books. They can set up a joke. They can be used as time travel devices. Or to manipulate rhythm. So I might just sit and think, “What could I do with page turns?” After a while, my brain will say, “Hey, know what would be funny?” And here we go.

But then other times, a great idea comes from just playing, not thinking about much of anything. This is why you should walk out to the bus stop with your kids and play rhyming games while you wait. Or trade jokes. Or be silly and talk in badly done accents. Or draw dumb pictures in your writing notebook. Goofing off is a fertile state of mind. Ideas love it.

Relax. Or induce panic. Either one.

Ideas like relaxed writers. So breathe a little. Defend parts of the day from busyness. Give yourself space to just be. Space for ideas to float in for a soft landing. It’s part of your job. Nice, huh.

On the other hand, in a pinch, ideas can be flushed from the bushes by a good, old fashioned dose of panic. I hate this method. It has side effects that I do not enjoy. But when I feel like I’m in a rut, like everything I’m writing is recycled from something I’ve done before, it has to happen.

Sign up for a stretch class. Is it something you’re not even sure you can quite do yet? Taught by someone you have immense respect for and would hate to disappoint? Are there assignments that cause you to break into a sweat just thinking about them? Great. That should do it.

Or give yourself a deadline. In the next twenty days, write twenty picture books—one per day, from nothingness to The End every day. Warn your family ahead of time and then shut yourself in your room. Don’t allow yourself escape hatches. The first couple of days will be fun. Then it will get ugly. But part way through, out of sheer desperation, your brain will bump out of its well worn path.

So . . .

 I guess what I’m saying is to keep things lively. Mix it up. Nothing works all the time. When one thing stops working, move to another. Then another. Until you circle back around again. Make peace with the fact that it’s a little weird, a little messy, a little mysterious. And that when you try to answer that question about where ideas come from, you’ll babble.



Mylisa Larsen is the author of the picture books, Instructions for Bedtime (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.)

You can visit her online at





Filed under craft~writing, Creativity, Picture books