My Friend, Fear


Fear is a fickle friend. I mean at first glance it’s hard to imagine her as your lunch buddy, but as time goes on, you understand her subtle ways. Confession – I’m not always the bravest. I’m scared of hairy/crunchy/large bugs, heights, the dark, mice crawling over my sandals at the movies. You get the picture. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as publication for my debut mg novel, Finding Perfect, inches closer, so does fear. She visits with some regularity these days. She accompanies me when I hit send to my editor and when I venture into uncharted territory, like this week at the New England Independent Bookseller Association Author Reception. This is me at the reception hanging with Gillian Kohli, owner of the amazing Wellesley Books and president of NEIBA. (Fear aside, the night was amazing.)


Fear tugs at my chest as the years/months to publication dwindle to days. When my daily activities of marketing, tweeting, blogging, signing, visiting school, and participating in panels, all fall outside of my comfort zone and squarely into the box marked ARE-YOU-KIDDING. But it’s in these moments that I have begun to see fear less as my-roller-coaster-going-to-throw-up foe, and more as my you’ve-got-this friend. You see, fear is what has taught that to grow I need to learn and to learn I need to step beyond what’s comfortable. I need to embrace the itchy, the awkward, the feared. I need to welcome all of it. Because it’s in those moments when the real magic happens.

So as the days to publication now number 26, I say, bring it on! The fear, the challenge, the awkward itchiness.  Let’s do this thing!



Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, comes out October 18th, 2016 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FINDING PERFECT is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her family. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on next, you can find her at, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Writing and Life

Spiral Review, Emu Style

My kids’ school district has adopted a new math program, and the majority of parents seem to loathe it. Meanwhile, I sit at home, harboring my own secret feelings, which I can sum up in three words:

I love it.

I am an educator and something of a math nerd, and I think overall, the new program does a fantastic job. One of my very favorite things about the homework my kids bring home (and in all honesty, I love math homework) is that on the back of every sheet, there is a section called Spiral Review.

The idea is this: We don’t learn best in a linear fashion. In math or writing or life in general, we learn best when we spiral back to the things we’ve learned before, and we approach them with a broader view of the world, a greater amount of experience, and new levels of understanding.

In this spirit, I’ve combed the Emu’s Debuts archives (with a little help from my fellow Emus) and come up with my own Spiral Review of some of the most poignant and meaningful posts from years of reading this blog.

The list could have been much longer, but here are a few favorites worth turning our attention toward again:

THE PIT OF DESPAIR by Terry Pierce

Want to Help an Author Out? It’s Pretty Easy! by Pat Zietlow Miller

Being Brave: A Challenge for Writers in General and Human Beings in Particular by Christine Hayes

Luciferadi Meeps Goodbye by Adi Rule

And So Our Story Begins . . . by Amy Finnegan

And finally, Nerve: Truth or Dare…The Videos, featuring many Emu emeriti. As Andrea Wang says, “Because who doesn’t love silly videos that make us smile? And how cool is it that former nest-mate Jeanne Ryan’s book, NERVE, which inspired all those daring EMU videos, is now a movie?! I may not be brave enough to do interpretive dance or compose an ode to a doorknob, but this post always encourages me to break out of my shell and dare to do something different.” (My personal favorite part is Tara Dairman eating the giant chocolate cake.)

What favorite posts, here or elsewhere, do you turn to for your own spiral reviews? What posts continue to teach and inspire you each time you read them?

profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.


Filed under Advice, Inspiration, Uncategorized

“I Don’t Know.”

When you land that book deal, it’s tempting to think that you’ve got the writing business figured out. But as soon as people begin asking you questions, you realize…


(Confession: I’ve never read nor watched Game of Thrones, but I’m a meme addict, so there you go.)

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“Wow! You have a book deal? That’s so cool! When can I buy it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what’s the cover look like so I’ll know it when I see it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the title?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s it about?”


Okay, as the author, you should probably know the answer to that last one. Though I won’t fault you for saying, “I don’t know” to that question, either. (I’ve done it.)

Eventually, you do start collecting answers to these questions. But the process is long, and the people in your life probably have no concept of how the publishing business works. It was half a year after my deal announcement before I had a title for my book (it was changed from its original). It was another six months later that I found out what the cover will look like (though I still can’t share it with anyone). As to when my book comes out…


Next summer? At some point?

The thing is, this is normal. It’s normal to not have all the answers–or any of the answers!–as you head down a new road. Well-meaning friends will ask you all sorts of things you can’t answer, and you just have to live with that fact. It’s part of the journey. And what a journey to be on! I don’t think anyone would trade it for anything.

“When will it be on Amazon pre-order?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will you do a book tour?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long will your edits take?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

*sticks head out of revision cave for a moment, squints in the sunlight* “…I don’t know.”

If this sounds obnoxious, don’t worry. Every now and again, you’ll get a question that you do know the answer to.

“So, are you going to quit your day job and buy a mansion in the countryside?”

“Hahaha, NO!”

Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) tells the story of a 13 year-old robotics whiz who is thrilled to be chosen to train for an international mission to Mars, but soon finds herself and her fellow cadets in a situation far more dire and deadly than any of them could have imagined. Publication is set for Summer 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her website,

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So Long, Farewell from Carole

Dear EMUs,

Thank you all for your friendship and support, especially those of you who participated in the  launch of my new Halloween book, Ten Busy Brooms, out last month from Doubleday.  I am adding an extra special thank-you to  Jason Gallaher, for all he does to organize these launches. I know I am not the only EMU who appreciates his kindness, patience, and enthusiasm.

omtb_9780316341219_final_Before I go, I want to share three bits of good news. First, two of my poems were selected by Kenn Nesbitt, editor of One Minute Till Bedtime: 60 Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep  (Little, Brown). Launch date is November 1, 2016.  Kenn served as the Children’s Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. He contacted me two years ago, asked me to submit a couple of poems, and accepted both my submissions: “Time to Sleep” and “Snow Angels.” Here’s the flap copy for this book of short poems: ” It’s time for tuck-in, and your little one wants just one more moment with you–so fill it with something that will feed the imagination, fuel a love of reading, and send them off to sleep in a snap. Reach for a one-minute poem!” Here is the Amazon link:

Second, my book Leaf Jumpers, first published by in hardcover by Charlesbridge in 2006, will next year be released as a board book. It “survived” multiple printings in hardcover, then Charlesbridge printed it in softcover, and two years ago Scholastic bought the paperback rights and continues to sell it at their school book fairs all over the country. This is my only title to have such a long and multi-format lifespan. Needless to say, it is one of my favorites!

Third,  my picture book titled  A Band of Babies will finally be published in 2017, seven years after it was accepted by Maria Modugno, who then headed HarperCollins (she now heads Random House.) Much of the delay is based on the schedule of New York Times best-selling illustrator Jane Dyer, who gets booked years in advance. I have seen Jane’s cover art of my mischievous babies, and they are adorable! I will post it on my website as soon as the editors give me the go-ahead.

And now it’s time to say goodbye!  “Happy trails to you, until we meet again/Happy trails to you -keep smiling on till then/ Happy trails to you, till we meet again . . .” Here is the link to the entire song:





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At long last, the day is finally here! The day I get to reveal the cover of my debut picture book, THE NIAN MONSTER, to the world. The first time I saw a draft of the cover was in December 2015 — ten months ago! It’s been really hard to keep a secret for so long, especially one that’s this beautiful:


Didn’t illustrator Alina Chau do a fabulous job?! And I’m thrilled that Mia Wenjen, AKA Pragmatic Mom, is hosting me today on her wonderful blog. Please check out my guest post on her site for more info about THE NIAN MONSTER and the book cover! Mia’s site is a treasure trove of kidlit resources, including lists of other Chinese New Year picture books as well as Chinese New Year crafts and activities. Chinese (Lunar) New Year is coming up soon on January 28, 2017 — it’s never too early to start preparing!

THE NIAN MONSTER releases on December 1st, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound if you feel inclined.

Xie xie! (Thank you!)

Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the family pet into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except for the closet part! Before becoming a writer, Andrea cleaned up hazardous waste sites as an environmental consultant. She recently moved to Colorado with her family and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog. You can find Andrea online at, on Twitter under @AndreaYWang, and on Instagram as @andreawhywang.


Filed under cover art, Picture books, Uncategorized


Every serious writer has been there. That awful place of self-doubt, frustration, and hopelessness. I call it the Pit of Despair.

We work in a business that’s full of rejection but the irony is that you have to put your work “out there” if your goal is publication. At first, you might play it safe and show family members (who always love your work, which is why they’re not reliable for honest feedback but that’s another story). Then we venture out into the writing community and share of work with other writers, teachers, enter contests, etc. After we feel confident, we expand to editors and agents, the “gatekeepers.” The progress from idea to book deal is full of crests and valleys. But sometimes the valleys are low. I mean really, really low, where you feel like you’re in a big ol’ hole in the ground filled with uncertainty and hopelessness. The Pit of Despair.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. EMU’s Debuts posts are usually cheerful and upbeat. What’s up with you, Terry? You goin’ through a rough patch?

Well, not anymore. I’ll admit that last spring I did go through a rough patch. I’d worked for over two years on a nonfiction picture book that I was convinced was going to be the breakout story that would launch my writing career to a new place. The story was a biography about someone I highly respect and admire. Tears would stream down my face as I wrote, amazed at his story. Yep, this was going to be the one.

And then my agent emailed me, “We’ve been scooped.” Another writer had written a picture book biography about the same person and a major publisher was releasing the book this fall. She said there wasn’t any point to us pursuing my story any further.

Helloooo, Pit of Despair. It felt like I’d been kicked in my gut so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was numb for days. I wanted to give up. And this was while I already had four (4!) book deals in hand, which goes to show that anyone at any time can slip into The Pit of Despair.

Then, I recalled a scene from what I think is one of the best television shows ever, West Wing.

In the clip, Leo McGarry reminds us that we’re not alone in that hole. There is always someone who has been there before, who knows the way out, who has our back.

This is why networking and writing connections are so important. I turned to my closest writing friends during this time (and of course, my spouse). I connected with people close to me. They reminded me that my value as a writer (a human being who writes) doesn’t come from acceptances or rejections or circumstance beyond my control, but by my efforts and having the courage to put myself “out there.”

Eventually, I clawed my way out of the pit, through journaling, yoga and a promise to be kinder to myself. I thought I was back on track with my writing but it wasn’t until I attended the annual EMLA Retreat in June that I experienced an overwhelming amount of support (unintended happy incidences and connections) that launched me out of the pit and into a standing position. Only two people at the retreat knew how I had struggled just weeks prior, yet I felt lifted by everyone. This is what a writing community does. We lift each other through compassion, empathy and encouragement.


In July, while backpacking with my family, I saw a signpost that reminded me of the writing journey. We do need to “use the existing trail” but we also need places for “restoration” where we can connect with others.

I hope anyone who reads this has found, or works to find, that special place of restoration and support so when they’re in The Pit of Despair they’ll have someone who can help them find their way out and bring them into the light of day with sunshine warming their writing soul.





PierceHeadshotUCLA (2) About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a  middle-grade adventure novel. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!). Terry has two books coming out in the spring 2017, MAMA LOVES YOU SO (Little Simon) and MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN (Tilbury House).


Filed under Connections and Networking, Writing and Life

Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.


The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.


You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.


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All I Want from You is…Your Voice!

Okay, as you can tell from the title, I may or may not be a little bit robsessed with The Little Mermaid. But that quote from Ursula in particular has a lot to do with my writing style when I write MG manuscripts.

Once I’m done with my first draft, I always have to go back and amp up the voices of my secondary characters. My protagonist is often screaming out and proud about who she or he is, but those sidekicks are sometimes waving in the background saying, “Hello? Can you hear me?!”

So I’ve had to create a way to hear those voices in my head and let them out. This entails finding things to listen to, watch or read that have strong voices and get into that mental rhythm of picking up on what makes a person’s voice unique and stand out. Here’s a list of some of the things I love featuring strong voices that help get me into that voice-amping mind space!


Candice Bergen’s memoir, A Fine Romance. I love me a good audiobiography, and this one is at the top of my list. Candice tells the tale of her romance with her first husband and the bond she created with their daughter, all while reliving her Murphy Brown days and how she had to be a strong and resilient woman to gain successes in her relationships and career. Plus, she reads it all in her signature Bergen cadence. I could listen to this again and again.

Tyler Oakley and Korey Kuhl’s Psychobabble Podcast. This weekly pop culture podcast is zany, timely and often times inappropriate. I can go from laughing out loud one minute to shaking my head in my mother’s signature “I can’t believe they just said that” head shake. But regardless of my reaction, Tyler and Korey have voices that feel so authentically them that I can’t help but be inspired to write characters with voices just as strong.


Any and every Real Housewives franchise. These shows are full of CHARACTERS, and they all have signature catchphrases or quotes. Just to list a few: “Bloop!” “Chic c’est la vie!” “I’m Gone with the Wind fabulous!” “We’re gonna whoop it up!” “Jesus fix it!” “Be cool. Don’t be all like…uncool;” “Watch out Maloof hoof, the Vanderpump is on its way…!” I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea that if you don’t have your own voice, you’re not going to be a Housewife. (PS – If they ever need a fella to be on any of the franchises, I already have my tagline picked out… So call me, Andy Cohen)


The Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate (also known as Katherine Applegate). I was so insanely, at-the-bookstore-the-moment-it-opens obsessed with this series when it was first published and I still love it! I read a few of the books every year, and I am just in awe how each of the main characters feels so distinct. If you haven’t read it, each book is narrated by a different character in this group of kids that has acquired an alien technology that allows them to morph into different animals. Marco, the funny guy, was my first book crush. Cassie, the animal lover, was the first character I ever read that I thought I could learn something from based on her kindness and ability to think of others. Not only was Applegate able to make one strong voice, she was able to create SIX and keep it up! *Bows down*

Just writing this post has made a few new voices swim around my head. I got to get to writing (and catching up on my DVR/podcasts).


IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases in Summer 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. If he had to pick his favorite Real Housewives franchise it would be Beverly Hills, and he once had a dream that he was an Animorph and morphed into a chicken. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)


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Back to School, Emu Style

As a teacher and a mom, there are three words that describe this time of year for me: Back to School. There are so many great things associated with those words: freshly-sharpened pencils, blank pages, and a seemingly limitless opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a beautiful sense of a story just beginning.

It’s a little like what we experience as writers each time we start a new project, isn’t it?

With that in mind, and because every season of life calls for new books to be read, I asked the Emu experts to tell me their favorite Back to School stories. Here are their responses:

rubyHayley Barrett: I love RUBY THE COPYCAT by the brilliant Peggy Rathmann. The conflict is real as Ruby, a delightfully idiosyncratic little girl, imitates her very tolerant classmate Angela. With encouragement, Ruby learns to be her own wonderful self, and the resolution is perfectly hop-py.

Darcey Rosenblatt: My new favorite is Elizabeth Shreeve’s CAPTAIN FREDDY COUNTS DOWN TO SCHOOL. Freddy overcomes his kindergarten fears through his imagined space adventures. Sweet story and beautiful illustrations.captain freddy

Jason Gallaher: Audrey Vernick’s FIRST GRADE DROPOUT is amazing!! I love how Audrey captures the fear of going to full-time school but with such a humorous voice. She better never dropout of writing.

Elly Swartz: When my boys were little, our favorites were the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar and THE SECRET SHORTCUT by Mark Teague. These books captured my boys’ imagination and sense of adventure. My new favorites are FIRST GRADE DROPOUT by Audrey Vernick and SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL by Pat Zietlow Miller.

squash schoolKatie Slivensky: It’s more family than school focused, but TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING by Judy Blume will always be one of my favorites. It acknowledges the difficulties of being in that age range so perfectly!

Andrea Wang: I love the middle grade mysteries CHASING VERMEER and THE WRIGHT 3 by Blue Balliett. They’re a wonderful mix of school, friendships, art, and puzzles, with a touch of the paranormal thrown in. What more could you want?!

Elaine Vickers: My kids can never get enough of YELLOWBELLY AND PLUM GO TO SCHOOL by Nathan Hale. The story is great, the illustrations are awesome, and it offers a great opportunity to talk about common fears and also diversity. For older readers, it would be hard to beat WONDER.


profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.


Filed under Picture books, Uncategorized

Detours Can Be Fabulous

If you’ve been following along here on Emu’s Debuts, you know that there is not one path to publication. Some roads meander, some have obstacles, and some are very long. Mine has been a long and bumpy road indeed, but I believe it has been well worth the wait. When I first started out, I had in mind what my path would look like, but I took a few detours on my way to getting my own fiction published.

Almost a decade ago while living in Shanghai China (for my husband’s job), I had the opportunity to write a nonfiction book for kids about China. That followed with an offer to write a book about Japan for the same publisher. Writing these books taught me discipline as I was under contract and under deadline.

More recently, I was offered a work-for-hire opportunity writing an early reader chapter book series about Dorothy & Toto for Capstone. This was my first experience with work-for-hire and I didn’t know what to expect. It ended up being a truly wonderful and positive experience. I was given a lot of freedom to come up with my own ideas and write the stories. From this I learned how to write under a very tight deadline, write proposals (which needed to be approved by both Warner Brothers and Capstone), and work closely with an editor. I had a lot of fun writing the four books, which just came out this month. Most importantly, I learned how to write a series.


Soon after, I received an offer from FSG for my chapter book Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen. Not only that, but they wanted a four-book series! I was overjoyed! This was my dream come true. I’d written a book, submitted it, accumlated many rejections and had a few close calls, and finally, an editor wanted my work! And MORE! Had I not had the recent positive experience of writing the Dorothy & Toto series, I might have panicked. I wrote Mochi Queen as a stand-alone, but writing a series definitely felt doable and exciting. Right now, I’m working on book 4 of the Jasmine Toguchi series. I’ll save the details of what it’s been like to write this series with my awesome editor for a future post.

I’m so grateful for every step along this road, for getting me here. While writing nonfiction for kids and doing work-for-hire had not been in my original plan, they were detours I welcomed. Stay the path! You never know what you’ll come upon. Welcome the surprises and the joys while working toward your big dream! Happy writing!



Filed under Writing and Life