I’ve Been Bitten

What I love about the EMU nest here on EMU’s Debuts is that we are all cuddled up together celebrating each other’s accomplishments. Namely, that we’ve sold our first book! While I feel so lucky and happy and can’t stinkin’ wait for my first book to hit shelves next year, I realized I’ve been bitten by a bug.

That bug is the need for MORE! More submissions to editors, more publishing contracts, more book ideas to keep this writing train a-chugging down the tracks. That need grew so loud and incessant in my own mind that I swear I could hear an actual buzzing. I totally related to Cory in this moment:

I realized that I needed to slow my roll and just relax. Publishing takes time, publishing things people actually want to read takes even longer, and me freaking out about the whole thing was not only NOT going to make things move faster, but it was only going to end up making people think I was crazy and look at me like this:

So I started finding ways to utilize that buzzing energy for the forces of good, rather than self-inflicted crazy-making evil. To satiate that need for more submissions, I found me a nice office space where I can write to my little heart’s content. My daily word count has doubled since getting that space at the beginning of July, and I’m feeling ON FIRE!

To ease those feelings of not having enough published, I’ve altered what exactly counts as publishing in my mind, and now I publish videos to YouTube in addition to writing manuscripts. I geek out about fandoms, I do a terrible Tom Brokaw impersonation while I film my puppy “reviewing” picture books,  and I sing terribly. I’m able to get out all that goofiness that constantly runs around my brain, and hopefully it will catch people’s interest and have them eagerly anticipating my books when they do come out (feel free to subscribe;)!).

These two things alone, my office and new creative outlet of YouTube, have made that buzzing go away. I’m feeling so much happier, so much more productive, and so ready to rock!

And of course, for those times when I’m feeling a little more energy than normal and that buzzing starts to creep back in, I can go out and play Pokémon Go!


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. Things Jason thought were first causing that buzzing he heard include the garbage disposal, a hive of invisible bees, and an audiobook narrated by Gilbert Gottfried. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)



Filed under Anxiety, Creativity


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A lot of bad stuff has been happening in the world. There’s no getting around that. And when the world is tearing people down, it can be hard to find the strength to build back up.

But as authors, that’s what we do. We build. We create.

We create places and people and relationships and ideas and adventures for others to enjoy. We broaden people’s horizons, and take them to places they’ve never been. We make them fall in love, experience fear, feel rage, and sometimes even cry, just from our words. And when the world isn’t safe, we provide a space for people–for children–to go and express themselves. A place to escape. A place to process emotions. A place where hearts and minds can be filled with something different.

That’s so powerful.


Dwelling on all the bad 24/7 is no good to anyone.

I decided to write this post because I realized that the best way I’ve personally found to cope with all the horrific news we’ve had lately is to burrow into fiction. The books and shows I’m reading and watching act as my friends–friends who aren’t going to talk about the latest mass shooting, bombing, murder, or election cycle. We all need an escape at times, to keep ourselves balanced and healthy.

And as I was thinking about this coping method the other day, a thought struck me. I create fiction. People may be using my words to escape and bring some light into their lives. Whoa!

So during these times of darkness, destruction, and loss, as debut authors, I urge us all to continue to create. Create! Write, dream, build someplace for readers to go, and invent characters for readers to love. It’s our superpower. Now is a really good time to use it.

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, www.katieslivensky.com.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Call… (And It’s Lovely to Meet You!)

Many EMUs have introduced themselves by sharing their experience of getting “THE CALL.” I think all writers have visions of how “the call” will happen but the fact is you never know when it will come. The good news is that no matter when it happens it is A-MAZING and a bit surreal, like flying into a rainbow and sliding into a pot of gold unicorns dusted in purple and green glitter.

To give a little personal backstory (this is my first post, after all. Hello! I’m Terry. Nice to meet you!), before I signed with EMLA, I had sold 18 manuscripts on my own. But when the economy collapsed in 2008, so went my career. It was harder to sell my work so I decided to up my game and go back to school to earn an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Two years after graduation, I signed with Trish Lawrence and EMLA. For another two years I toiled away, writing and revising manuscripts I hoped Trish could sell.

Fast forward to November, 2015. Two days before Thanksgiving, and I was in vacation mode. You know that place where you’ve mentally checked out and the last thing on your mind is your career? My husband and I had settled down for the evening in our cozy mountain home, snowflakes gently falling outside, a warm fire burning, hot drinks in hand.

Suddenly, my phone broke out with the chorus of Pharrell Williams’s song, “Happy.” I instantly recognized it as Trish’s ringtone. But wait—it was Thanksgiving week. Oh nuts! She must’ve accidentally butt-dialed me, I thought, because surely two days before Thanksgiving she was also in vacation mode. I answered the phone, “Hi…Trish?” Well, the ringtone fit because she was happy to tell me that Simon & Schuster had made an offer on my manuscript, Mama Loves You So. Because my husband was right there, I started squealing, “We got an offer on Mama! We got an offer on Mama!” I can still hear Trish’s laughter in the background (that moment will stay with me forever :)). Once I calmed down (because this is how I was feeling…)


…she explained that Little Simon wanted to publish my manuscript as a board book for a new line of Little Simon books called, Stories to Start (first stories for parents to share with babies). Wowieee!!! I loved the idea of being part of a new book line and perhaps even more I loved the idea that I’d written a board book (who knew? I thought I wrote a picture book!). My writing goal, after all, is to turn young children onto books to begin their journey as lifelong readers.

Fast forward again to two days ago (eight months after “the call”) and I was delighted to see Mama Loves You So listed in Publisher’s Weekly “Spring 2017 Sneak Previews.” Yippeeee! I can finally tell people that Little Simon is publishing my book, a story that’s close to my heart (I first thought of the idea—using nature metaphors to reflect a mother’s love for her baby—when my son was an infant—he’s now 32!).

Back to the point of this post, you never know when “the call” will happen or when your story ideas will come to fruition. So don’t ever count yourself out and always embrace the unexpected!


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About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a  middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).


Filed under Introduction, The Call, Uncategorized

The Courage To Create

Committing to creative work requires courage. Tell people you spend the day doing eye surgery or installing HVAC systems, and they will understand and approve. Tell them you spend any time at all—let alone days, weeks, months—thinking about anthropomorphized ants, and the best you can hope for is bewilderment.

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Yet just about everyone enjoys and consumes the work of creative people. They listen to music. Hang pictures on their walls. Read bedtime stories to their kids. There is a disconnect here that troubles me, especially if it influences how young people value their own creative work.

As soon as they acquire some hand-eye coordination, children yearn to make and do, to fashion a cave out of a few blocks or slap a mudpie into shape. That’s accepted and encouraged when they are little, but as they grow, the rules change. Time becomes more constrained. Other, more practical accomplishments are prioritized. If the desire to engage in creative work is gradually made to feel less worthy than other pursuits, it can go dormant. Sometimes forever.

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When I tell a child that I’m a writer, they light up. Unlike adults, they don’t ask how many books I’ve written or which publishers are involved. Kids want me to know that they have stories too, and they stand ready to tell me their stories RIGHT NOW. I find this creative confidence reassuring, and it deserves to be protected and nurtured.

My elementary school art teacher was a wild woman. As I look back, I realize the classroom teachers must have dreaded her visits. Papier-mâché, preferably of monumental proportions, was her delight. She made art—and by extension, all creative work—feel alive, vibrant, necessary. Most importantly, she made it feel possible. I learned from her that it was possible to make something spectacular out of crumpled newspaper and floury paste. To squish and wish it into existence.

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As writers, we strive to make something spectacular out of nothing too. Out of willpower and words, we create books. But we also illuminate the path to a creative life. When young people watch adults courageously claim time and space for this important and satisfying work, when they watch us fan the flicker of imagination, the possibility of a richly creative life of their own becomes possible.

I still hope to thank my art teacher, but I was a kid when I knew her and can’t remember how she spelled her name. (Miss Whetl? Or was it Miss Whettle?) Even if I never connect with her again, I hope she knows that her fearless approach to creativity is with me still.

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.



Filed under Uncategorized

All You Need, You Already Have

I was intrigued by this title of a weekly column by Leo Babauta who writes on the topic of  “Zen Habits.”  Translated from the Japanese words ware tada shira taru, the  phrase “all you need, you already have” are words we should aspire to live by.  As Mr. Babauta says, “It’s a lovely way of looking at life.”

He urges people to expand our appreciation of what we have instead of always wanting more. “Chances are, you have enough food, clothing, shelter, and other basic necessities in your life. You might also have loved ones who care about you. You are without any desperate needs.”

I believe his words apply especially to writers. As EMUs, you already have one of the basic necessities of  being – or becoming – a published writer. You have an imagination. You have a computer.  You have manuscripts. You have an agent. In Mr. Babauta words, “All you need, you already have.”

But many of us don’t recognize this. If we haven’t yet been published, we worry that it won’t happen.  If we have been published, we briefly celebrate and then begin stewing about whether we’ll ever get another manuscript accepted. If we’ve had multiple books published, we worry that the streak is about to end.

I thought of the need to appreciate what we had after reading a lengthy and heartfelt obituary last spring in my local paper. (Yes, I’m a writer who is intrigued by how families and friends sum up the lives of their loved ones.)  Here’s an abridged excerpt:

William H. Lewis, “Popcorn,” age 91, passed peacefully in the warm spring sunshine of Monday, April 25 after planting his final garden. . . Reared on the family farm, he grew and sold vegetables. Following high school graduation, Popcorn served in the Pacific from 1943-1946. He returned to farming when he retired from B.F. Goodrich in 1986.  Popcorn lived a full life of adventure, bewilderment, achievement, misfortune, and joy. He was a farmer, WWII vet, marathon runner, humanitarian, dancer, freshwater angler, musician, hunter, and artist. Friend to many delightful (and peculiar) characters. . . Popcorn showed us that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.   

What a great tribute! What loving and insightful writing! I wish I had known this man. Popcorn clearly savored and appreciated his imperfect life. He lived as Leo Babauta urges us to live: By remembering that we already have enough, “we can appreciate the beauty, the preciousness of every moment of being alive.” Whether we publish a hundred books, one book, or none at all, we already have what we need.


Filed under Uncategorized

Herding Cats: Guest Post by Curtis Manley

It’s always a treat to have a guest post on the EMU’s Debuts blog, and it’s even treatier when that post is written by a fellow EMLA member! Today we have just such a treat! Without further ado, here is Curtis Manley, author of the just released picture book, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ!

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Before Internet memes, people had sayings about cats. A difficult—or impossible!—task could be “as hard as herding cats.” You might assume it would be obvious to everyone in the whole world that teaching cats to read would be even more difficult than herding them—and yet the main character of my newly published picture book tries to do just that (Spoiler alert: He succeeds!).

Nick loves books. Even though he named his cats, Verne and Stevenson, after authors, the cats don’t share Nick’s interest in stories. So, being the good friend that he is, Nick decides to teach his cats to read, too. Just as with young humans learning to read, equal progress is not made by all. A tantrum might even be involved before a solution is found…



Some book ideas remain largely unchanged through all the stages from inspiration to published book. Others, well… My story was inspired years ago when my young daughter began reading middle grade novels. She sank so deeply into those books that she was literally in another world—and it wasn’t the world in which her parents were asking her to do things…

And that’s what the earliest version of the story was about: a boy who loses his best friend, his cat, because the cat loses himself in books. But writing a picture book about the dangers of reading books is like shooting yourself in the foot. So I changed the story to make it about cats actually learning to read in the first place.

Personally, I’ve never been able to teach my cats to read anything more than the bag of cat treats. But I’m a non-fiction author at heart, so even though Nick’s story is made up, I had a lot of fun weaving-in real world information: I name-dropped titles of real books. I included some of the steps we all use to teach our kids to read. I made one of the cats a reluctant reader who has trouble getting interested in books in the first place. And I named that cat after a famous reluctant reader: Robert Louis Stevenson—the author of Treasure Island—who, before he could read, dictated stories to his mother and nurse and then illustrated them with his own drawings.



Something else that is harder than herding cats: getting a picture book published! But I had help. Lots of help. The story wouldn’t exist without my family. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere without my super agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. It wouldn’t be appearing without my editor’s interest in an early version (and continued interest in the seven revisions we then went through!). It wouldn’t be as good as it is without the eyes and ears of my wonderful critique group (which includes fellow agency siblings Laurie Ann Thompson, Kevan Atteberry, and Dan Richards). And it wouldn’t look so beautiful without the luminous illustrations by Kate Berube (don’t miss her apt and hilarious titles for the books on the library shelves!).

Oh… And you wouldn’t be hearing about it here without the generous offer of an Emu’s Debuts guest post! Thank you one and all!


Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.01.49 PMCurtis Manley has been a store clerk, geochronology lab assistant, volcanologist, software design engineer, technical writer, and is now a picture book author. His debut, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, is just out from Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster. Two more picture books—one fiction and one a folktale adaptation—are forthcoming in 2017. Curtis lives near Seattle with his wife, college-age daughter, and just one cat. You can visit him at curtismanley.com or on Facebook.



Filed under Guest Posts, Picture books

What Success Looks Like: Lessons from Little League

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This spring, it felt like my life had been taken over by little league. I had a daughter playing softball and a son playing baseball and between the two of them, we seemed to do little else. (Practice, games, driving, washing uniforms, packing snacks, Gatorade runs, etc.)

Things got significantly more exciting at the end of the season, because,

1. My daughter’s team won the championship, and

2. My son finally got a chance to pitch.

Each of these gave me a picture of what success looks like that I’ve been pondering ever since. As long as we’re writing, we’ll be judging our writing and determining its success. Sometimes by valid measures, sometimes not. Sometimes by internal measures, sometimes external. Each of us has a picture of what success would look like–a finished manuscript, an agent, a book deal, a bestseller, a movie deal, a starred review, a National Book Award. The picture changes as we move forward, and sometimes the finish line seems to recede on the horizon. When can we truly count ourselves successful?

Here’s what I learned from each of these little league experiences.

Lesson #1: As I mentioned, my daughter’s team won the championship. I think the magnitude of this is best illustrated by a conversation I had with my husband the night before the tournament started.

Me: Do you think we need to keep Wednesday clear on the schedule?

Husband: [laughs] No.

Me: Yeah. You’re right. At this point, there is a 0% chance they’ll be in the championship game.

Yes, I said those actual words. I wasn’t being cruel or pessimistic, just as realistic as possible. The team had lost almost all of their games. They were having fun, and we absolutely considered it a successful season, but 0% seemed like an honest assessment of their chances of winning their first two games and making it to the championship. But, of course, they did, and we scrambled to get her to that championship game, which her team won soundly. This is how happy she was:

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So what’s the lesson in this? You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if you’re being absolutely practical (or even pessimistic) about your chances of success and determine the odds to be near zero, success may find you anyway. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

Lesson #2: Ever since the Giants won the World Series in 2014 almost entirely on the pitching of Madison Bumgarner, my son has wanted to be a pitcher. And not in that “I want to be a pitcher and now I’m going to play video games” kind of way. He has pitched to his dad and his grandpa and his coaches and friends, and when nobody was there to catch the ball, he pitched to the back fence. He practiced almost every day, but for most of the season, there were better pitchers on the team and he played second base. But still, he pitched to people and walls and threw invisible baseballs in the kitchen.

And then his time came. He got to pitch a couple of innings. He walked the first batter, then pulled it together and shut down the next two innings, including four strikeouts. The next game, his coach let him pitch until he’d reached the league maximum pitch count. His coach later described the game as “by far the best pitching performance we’ve seen all season.”

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This one was a strike for sure.:)

Again, the lesson: You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if all your hard work seems to have gotten you nowhere, your big break (pun intended) may be in the very next inning. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

His team didn’t win the championship. She practiced and never got to throw a pitch in a game. Neither reached every goal they set out to accomplish. But do all three of us consider these little league seasons successful? Absolutely. Because success depends on showing up and working hard and, yes, achievement, but it’s about perspective too. We have to allow ourselves to celebrate. We have to create room in our hearts to recognize the successes, and to set things aside to shoot for next season.

I believe in you, readers. Whatever your picture of success looks like, I would not put your odds at 0%, and clearly it wouldn’t matter if I did. If you show up and work hard, good things will happen, often when you least expect them. In the words of my wonderful grandmother, who never once wished me good luck:

“Luck has nothing to do with it. You’re ready! I wish you success!”


Filed under Dreams Come True, Inspiration, rejection and success, Satisfaction


In honor of today, Independence Day, I would like to recommend that you take this opportunity and every opportunity to celebrate your writing/illustrating progress.



I recently had two things to celebrate. First, I found out my release date for the first two books of my chapter book series! JASMINE TOGUCHI, MOCHI QUEEN (book 1) and JASMINE TOGUCHI, SUPER SLEUTH (book 2) will be available from FSG on July 11, 2017. Yes, it’s a long way off, but I’m so excited to have an actual date! Second, I finished a novel and sent it off to my awesome agent. I celebrated both with a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of Prosecco.

It’s easy to focus on the “big prize” — the agent offering representation or an editor offering a contract. But, at least for me, the road to both of those was long and bumpy. If I had waited to celebrate until those two wonderful things happened, I would have spent many many years NOT celebrating. So, instead, I made sure to celebrate any and all accomplishments.

Some things I’ve celebrated:

  1. Sending off queries.
  2. Receiving an encouraging response (request for full, a kind/personal rejection).
  3. Finishing a SFD (shitty first draft).
  4. Applying for/getting accepted into a workshop or retreat.
  5. Coming up with a new story idea.

Ways I’ve celebrated:

  1. Buying a new book/journal/pen.
  2. Taking myself out on an “artist’s date” to a museum, garden, hike.
  3. Going to coffee/tea/lunch with a friend.
  4. Champagne/dessert.
  5. Taking a break – to smell the flowers, walk the dog, watch the birds, sing a song, dance in the kitchen.

Take time to focus on your accomplishments, bask in the joy that you’ve completed something, that you’re moving forward on the road, that you’re following your passion. Pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself! I’d love to hear what and how you celebrate.

So, go ahead – celebrate. The road can be long, so you might was well sprinkle some joy along the pathway. You know you have things to celebrate – the new idea, joining a writing group, sending out a query, finishing a chapter. You deserve a treat! Happy Celebrating! And happy 4th of July!



Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations

It’s All About the Writing – Right?

FullSizeRenderI remember when I was prepublished having a published friend tell me to enjoy the time before I got a deal because it was all about the pure writing and it would never happen again and it was lovely. At the time I felt like I was getting close – I’d had lots of requests for full manuscripts and encouraging critiques at conferences – but I felt like I’d been close for a long time and that illusive sale was still out of reach. So when my friend told me to enjoy this time I was full of mixed feelings. Part of me appreciated her confidence that I wouldn’t be prepublished forever. Part of me wanted to shout at her – ‘You’ve sold three books – just shut the front door!’ I didn’t shout of course. I tried to hear what she was saying, but I will admit that I’m hearing those words in my head loud and clear now in a way I hadn’t before. I am approximately eight months from my book hitting the shelves and while I am still daily ecstatic that I got that deal, my to do list is growing with the tweeting and postcard ordering and library outreach and all the things I need to do to get my story noticed. So I remember back to that time when my writing life was all about the writing. I won’t say I’m nostalgic, but I have this work-in-progress that I AM GOING to finish and get out of my hands this summer. Fitting in good long writing time and holding on to that love of pure writing – I’m putting that at the top of my to do list. Anybody with me?
DarceyHighResAbout Darcey Rosenblatt
Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in spring of 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, a cat and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.


by | June 30, 2016 · 11:05 am

Writing, Twizzlers, and the Music

I write. I revise. I eat Twizzlers. I write some more. Recently, I realized there’s another thing I do when I’m in the writing zone, I listen and sing poorly to songs that inspire me. Now, as I recently confessed to a classroom of fifth graders, I sound a bit like a dying frog when I sing. But, I love it! So, I can’t seem to stop myself from belting out the the music when I’m cooking, driving, or on a run. So, if you happen to be nearby, I truly am sorry.

A while back, while in the kitchen making meatballs and singing poorly and dancing with my sauce-splashed apron on, I realized the song I was singing over a killer tomato-basil sauce, had less to do with dinner, and more to do with my current work-in-progress. I was right in the thick of a first draft. To me, this is the part of the process where I fear everything.  I’ll never come up with a gripping plot. Even if I have a good plot, I’ll never be able to construct a whole story. Even if I can construct a story, it’s going to stink. So naturally, I found myself singing Brave by Sara Bareilles, loudly and out-of-tune, while slicing and dicing. There I was in all my first draft glory singing along with Sara like we were old friends. “Say what you want to say. Let the words fall out. Honestly, I want to see you be brave.”

So after a delicious Italian dinner, I jumped back into my work-in-progress with purpose, and to my happy surprise, I eventually completed a draft of my new story. Woot! Let the celebration begin! I was super excited until I read the whole thing over and realized it stunk. I mean no-one’s-going-to-read-this kind of stunk. I knew I needed to summon the courage to reconstruct the characters, the plot, the pacing.  So, I popped in my earbuds and listened to The Fight Song by Rachel Platten before I dug back into all those words on the page.

Once I finished, I mean really finished, a process that included several bags of Twizzlers and many many drafts, I sent my newly revised story to Trish, my agent. And, I waited for her thoughts while I jumped back into all the things I had put on hold while revising. The music of choice – The Waiting by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And then, Trish called. She loved it! So, I popped in my earbuds and went for a run to Happy by Pharrell Williams!



IMG_9552 Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is a story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that determines everything. It took thirteen years, numerous drafts, many Twizzlers, loads of hugs, and much unconditional love, to find her way to YES. Elly lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.















Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Writing and Life