Author Archives: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

About Lynda Mullaly Hunt

New York Times bestselling author of FISH IN A TREE & ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin) Founder of Book Train for Kids & #AuthorsLoveTeachers

I Wish I May. I Wish I Might. Read Authors’ Wishes. That Delight.

So, I am the last party thrower of the week as part of this fantastic celebration of Jeannie’s novel, KATERINA’S WISH. Today, I have decided to explore wishes of children—but not just any children, though. Children who grew up to become children’s authors.

Before, I introduce the many generous authors who offered childhood wishes that range from poignant and tear-worthy to laugh-out-loud funny, I’d just like to say that I am thrilled to see KATERINA’S WISH finally enter the world. It is a fantastic book. Interesting. Rich. Layered (I love layered books!). It is the kind of book that lingers afterward. It is the kind of book that leaves vivid images behind. Trina is a kid that so many of us can relate to. I certainly could—that’s for sure.

For wishes are a big part of any childhood. I also think that wishes are a vital aspect of any book character, for knowing the wishes of a person (real or not) is a special peek into the heart. Often good fiction is about the wishes. The longing. And Trina has plenty of both.

So, what did some children’s authors wish for as kids?

Audrey Vernick:

Despite a profound lack of talent or a ability, every four years, I wished to be an Olympic athlete. I knew I could tolerate the early mornings, long practices, and other sacrifices. I’d even be kind of noble about it. I’ll let you guess whether or not that one came true.

Christina Mandelski

When I was in second grade I had a friend who lived in a trailer, and I thought it would be so cool to live in that compact space and be able to move wherever you pleased (in theory). So when I grew up I wanted to live in a trailer, drive a cute red Chevy Chevette and eat Fruit Stripe gum any time I wanted. I also wanted to be an Olympic ice skater like Dorothy Hamill. I never did take lessons, but I did get the hair cut she made famous, and that was good enough for me (and probably less dangerous).

Jeanne Ryan

My childhood wish was to play in the NFL. It wasn’t until fifth grade, when scrawny little me received my “Stars of the NFL” paperback ordered through the Scholastic Book Club, and made a sobering discovery: Everyone in the book was male and about 200 lbs. I was bummed for a few days and then decided I wanted to be a writer.

J. Anderson Coats:

I wished for a pony.  I got braces instead.

Deborah Underwood:

I had a lot of childhood wishes, but the first one that leapt to mind was wanting to turn our basement into a perfect replica of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, complete with chocolate river and boat ride. I drew up plans and everything. My parents, strangely, refused to let me begin construction. They were not totally unreasonable, however: they let me flood our back yard one freezing night to see if I could make an ice rink (that didn’t work so well either).

I also wished I could ride on a starship. Still do.

Ann Bedichek Braden:

When I was in kindergarten, my wish was that when I grew up I would be
able to work at the checkout counter at Stop and Shop with my best
friend Amy. When I moved up to to first grade, I upgraded my wish to
World Peace — slightly more difficult to attain.

Lisa Schulman:

When I was a kid I wanted to be a famous actress. I forced my mom to let me audition with a “NY agent” who came to our small town to find talent. My mom let me audition but quickly pulled me out of contention. I was so mad because my friend’s mom let her go to the next step and travel to NY to meet with the agent. A few months later, the agent was sent to jail for stealing kids’ money by telling them she would make them a “star.” I went all the way to a theater major in college before I realized that I was really talentless. Then I switched to screenwriting, which gradually led me to here. However, let me say that I was writing stories all through my childhood, usually stolen plot ideas from The Brady Bunch. But I never really thought about being an author–not when there was a possibility of being a huge movie star. Funny, because now I will be signing my autograph, which I worked on endlessly as a kid. Still looks horrid, though, so the practice did no good.

Peter Adam Salomon:

Here are the wishes I can actually remember:

1) lots of wishes about being famous, usually as a writer/poet but occasionally as a dancer (don’t ask)
2) LOTS of wishes about one cute girl or another…not quite what I want to be known for 🙂
3) sadly, that’s about it…I was a little fixated on the whole writer/girl thing as a teen 😀

Natalie Lorenzi:

My wish was to become an elementary school teacher, which I did. I actually did wish to be a writer for a bit, but as I grew up, I never considered it as a career path. I do remember in 4th grade starting the first few chapters of a fan-fiction Nancy Drew story, but I abandoned that, leaving Nancy stranded on her front lawn just as a mysterious helicopter had landed. My teacher was big into reading and writing that year, and that really planted the seed for me as both a reader and writer. The next year, in 5th grade, however, we switched classes for all subjects, much like middle school, so I didn’t know my teachers as well as I had in earlier grades. One day I turned in a story I wrote for English, and the teacher called me up to her desk and asked if I’d actually written it, or copied it from somewhere. I told her I wrote it myself, but I could tell she didn’t believe me, and I was mortified. I remember “dumbing down” my writing assignments after that, and didn’t write again for pleasure until I was in my 30s.

Carrie Gordon Watson:

My childhood wish was to be able to see the teeny-tiny people I was SURE lived in the walls of our house. I’d set up little rooms for them and even set out food. =)

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Well, my whole life was about wishes. One of the more goofball ones was my deep, deep, thought-about-it-so-much-it-was-distracting wish to be able to travel back in time to the world of Little House on the Prairie. (Yeah, I know) I wanted to be able to bring Laura forward in time to shock and amaze her with the terribly futuristic culture of the 1970’s. Just imagine what she would have thought of a transistor radio, a Buick, or my Huffy Dill Pickle Bicycle.

I also spent a lot of time imagining how I would intro each new thing as well. None of that, “Hey, look at this!” and then just flipping the switch. No, I would come up with ways to have her think one thing and have the item turn out to be something different. Somehow, I think I would have transformed into some ten-year-old version of Alan Funt.

The really weird thing (Again—I know) though? I never liked Laura that much. I probably should have focused on bringing Nellie forward in time. Proudly sporting a bow in her hair the size of a propeller, she would have insisted that she knew how to drive that Buick even though she’d never laid eyes on one. Still, though, it would have been an adventure.

Laurie Thompson

When I was young, my one wish was to discover my talent, the thing I was meant to do. Pretty sure I finally got it. 🙂

Hilary Weisman Graham

When I was 15 years old, my father was on a wait list for a kidney donation, so I wished for that a lot, sometimes even prayed for it, even though we weren’t religious and I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. One time, I was alone in the house when I got a call from his doctor saying that my dad was next up on the list for a compatible kidney, but only if it didn’t match the person who was first on that list. Unable to contact my parents (this was before cell phones) and not sure of “the right way” to pray, I copied the way Meggie did it on the TV miniseries The Thornbirds–kneeling dramatically in a patch of sunlight and closing my eyes. But a kidney never came. My father died a year later. –Hilary

Sheila O’ Connor

I spent my first many years wishing I was a cowboy–a handsome man on horseback, a man with a fast gun who took care of trouble fast. I wished it when I went away to Catholic horse camp, when I dressed as the Lone Ranger, when I grew into Butch Cassidy, when I sat outside our small basement apartment and stared into the field across the street. Once, watching a rodeo, I put my name into a drawing for a horse and sat there in the stands with a tiny daring hope that I would win it. It’s that horse hope I stil think about today–what it means to believe in the impossible–to make a wish against all reason–the horse, the gun, the slow ride out of town.

Mary Sullivan:

To gallop on the Black Stallion faster than the wind.

Michelle Gerson Ray:

To be interviewed by Oprah. To go to Disneyland everyday.

Gabrielle Carolina:

To be on Broadway!

And last but never least. The woman of the hour. The woman of the day. The woman of the whole darn week! Our own Jeannie Mobley!

I think I was more of a dreamer than a wisher–that is, I was always daydreaming myself into another life or another world, but I don’t remember explicitly wishing for those things to come true. I spent hours practicing figure skating in my socks on the kitchen floor and imagining a daring and heroic gold medal finish at the Olympics, but that never went so far as me actually enrolling in skating lessons. And of course as a pre-teen and teen I spent far too many hours wishing I was prettier, thinner, and more popular, but I consider those to have been frivolous wishes.

The summer between third and fourth grade, my family took a trip to Canyonlands National Park and spent the summer hiking and exploring. I came home from that trip wanting to be an archaeologist, a wish that I held onto unwaveringly. When I was sixteen, my parents let me go on an archaeological dig for a week, thinking I’d get bored and want to come home. At the end of the week, I called and asked if I could stay longer.

When I was in junior high and high school, I had many English teachers who pushed me to become a writer, and though I completed three novels before I graduated from high school, I never intended to make a career out of writing. It wasn’t until I was around thirty that I came back to writing fiction, and not until I was past forty that I decided to pursue it as a career.

Well, thank goodness you did, Jeannie, or we wouldn’t be here celebrating your dream come true. Your beating the odds. Your amazing achievement that will get readers to think—and even learn a thing or two! (Gasp!)

Congrat’s my friend. It has been an honor, a privledge, and a joy to be with you on this journey. I look forward to our continued travels…

And finally, to end this week of wishes and dreams, here’s a magic carp for YOU to wish on. You just have to print it out and fold it first.

Here’s hoping all your wishes come true!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Happiness, Promotion, Updates on our Books!

Interview ~ the Talented Kelly Murphy, Cover Artist of FLYING THE DRAGON

Well, it is a pleasure to be a fellow party-thrower here for Natalie’s Launch Party–an honor, really. I always find it kind of funny to read a book written by someone who I like so much as Natalie. As I read it, I could swear that I heard it in her voice sometimes. Anyway, it only added to the experience. 🙂

FLYING THE DRAGON is a wonderfully layered story. I learned so much about the Japanese culture in reading it. I also feel like I learned about these two characters that felt so real to me. It is a story that has many themes that the mind lingers upon once the book is closed–things that many of us are thinking about these days such as the many children who are learning English as a second language (And their dedicated teachers!) and the integration of multiculturalism into our great melting pot here. However, at its heart it is a story about family, love, and honor. It is a story about two very different kids (and cousins) whose worlds crash who ultimately come to realize that they have a few very important things in common–such as a deep love for their grandfather. It was a pleasure to be on that journey with Skye and Hiroshi. Also, it is the first book that I’ve ever read that made me want to build and fly my own kite.

Another honor for me! I had the opportunity to interview Kelly Murphy, the very talented illustrator who painted the lovely cover of FLYING THE DRAGON. Let’s hear from her, shall we?

Ø The cover of FLYING THE DRAGON is gorgeous! How did you manage to add so much richness to a piece of art that is largely one color (yellow)?

I am so glad that you can see the richness of the sunlight in the painting. It was exactly what I was trying to capture. If I had to say that one particular thing is the inspiration for my artwork, I would have to answer light. Light can convey so much depth and emotion. I paint in a number of layers, alternating from oils to acrylics, one layer developing the tonal structure and the other layer bringing in the subtly of hue shift. I think the richness or glow is directly related to this type of glazing.

Ø Do you read a book before deciding to accept a project? Are there factors that you take into account besides just the story?

Typically, I always have enough time to read the whole manuscript. I personally think it is really important to read the whole manuscript. Sometimes, the author is still going through revisions, but it is at a healthy point where I can start to create the visual imagery. One important thing that I always try to take into account is uniqueness, or shelf-pop of the book cover. With so many books being displayed in libraries and bookstores, I always want to create a cover that provides that extra something that brings a read in.

Ø Would you please give us a bit of information about the mediums you used here and what other mediums you may have considered? Did you have other cover ideas that you didn’t use?

Most of the work that I do for publishing is traditional mixed media. I combine acrylics and oils in thin layers to allow light to reflect the translucency of the pigments. I used to have difficulty painting value (lights and darks) with color. I developed a technique of separating the two necessary qualities into separate layers. The yellow that you mentioned earlier is actually my oil layer that I used to establish value within the image. Typically, I like to provide the publisher with a few different ideas for each story. If I am lucky, the editors and art directors like one of them more than the other, and with a few compositional tweaks, I can go to a finish. I really enjoyed the shape of the rokkaku kite, and tried to work it in as a motif in some of the sketches, but those sketches seemed to get away from the more important mood that the book was wonderfully written in. I can see why the editors and art directors chose their preferred image. Below are the other ideas I presented.

The final masterpiece!

Ø As an artist, can you please share a bit about your process of choosing from the many facets of a book when deciding what to depict on a cover? Is it your decision or does the publisher weigh in?

Sometimes publishers have a set idea they want to use. More often, they trust the creative process and conceptual strength that an illustrator brings to a table. I can imagine how difficult it might be to have a piece of writing and have someone else enter with their own visuals of that writing. I really respect authors for their bravery. Typically, I will read through the whole manuscript and highlight all of the necessary pieces of information: age of character, description of character, location, names, likes, dislikes… all of the facts that need to be met. Then, at the end of each chapter I select two different images that spoke to me the strongest, or which moment was key to understanding more about the characters. By the books end, I can then see all of those notes and deduce what brings them all together. What was the overall message the author was trying to convey? I’d like to think that illustrators are problem solvers… and we discover how to communicate the best idea visually.

Ø -Your cover art has a lot of movement- how do you work out the composition so that it stays alive?

Phew! I am glad you think so! Compositional focus is very important when trying to present these visual ideas I keep talking about. Do we focus on Skye in the bottom right hand corner first because she is the darkest object on the cover first? Or do we follow the bright red kite into the undulating dragon, down the string to Hiroshi, then follow the path to Skye? Much like understanding the course of events in a movie or animation, illustrators need to sequence and pace which information their viewer concentrates on in one image. I simply create a hierarchy of objects, or what are the most important things to notice first. The best way to do this…? Thumbnail sketch every possible idea.

Thanks so much again for the opportunity to be a part of Natalie’s book launch!

No, thank YOU, Kelly. It was so great to hear about your process! ALso thanks for your generosity in sharing these other versions of covers for FLYING THE DRAGON. Any one of them would have been great! But I really do love the final one.

Thank you, again. 🙂

AND ~ my heartfelt **congratulations** to Natalie on her launch! YEAH!

<Lynda is told to go fly a kite. Having been told *many times* to go do this, this is the first time she is happy to oblige.>


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, cover art, Happiness, Promotion, Updates on our Books!

Writing “The End” is only the Beginning

It has been suggested that I write about my first few weeks of being a published author–what I’ve been doing and how it feels. How much time do you have to sit and read? I could write a 10,000 word essay if I were to detail everything (Or I could write “Wow” over and over?) Not to say it’s all been easy. It hasn’t.

Let me begin with a confession. I have read countless times that authors never open and/or read their books once they are published. Well, I sometimes do—take a peek and read a few pages. It isn’t that I’m admiring the writing or patting myself on the back. Honestly…I just miss the Murphys. I miss Toni. I miss Carley. I miss Michael Eric. They are as real to me as any person that I have ever met. When I remember that Michael Eric and the others don’t actually live and breathe somewhere. .. You know what? It makes me sad.

As a debut author, I am busy. Really busy. Here is a bit about what’s been going on:

I was so honored to be a faculty member at the New England SCBWI conference in Springfield—this was like coming full circle. It was a fantastic weekend of debut author milestones—including seeing my book for the first time. Of opening the cover and seeing what my publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, had done to the inside. Not easy to make me tear up—but this moment did. I was so shocked and so, so touched.

That weekend, I also served on some panels with incredibly talented authors (including EMLA clients, Joan Paquette, Erin Moulton, and Audrey Vernick) and signed for the first time ever—elbow-to-elbow with amazing, generous people/friends like Jo Knowles, Mitali Perkins, and AC Gaughen. I also made new friends like Sarah Darer Littman who is awesome—so generous and funny and sweet.

And then there was planning the Book Launch. I had two “official launches” actually. One was for my mom’s side of the family in Newton, MA. That was very special. The room was filled with faces that I’ve loved since I’ve had a memory. An amazing day. A memorable, cherished one.

The second launch was at the local B&N in Glastonbury. This was like a, “This is your Life, Lynda Mullaly” episode. Best friend since I was fourteen came. College roommate and teaching colleagues from 15 years ago came. Various friends and fellow moms and writers from both down the road and out-of-state. It was a big crowd—only thing was, I wish I had had more time to talk to people.

I taught myself to make a book trailer by jumping in. It’s embarrassing how many hours this took, between looking for the right images and trying to distill the strengths of the book into a minute and twenty three second’s worth of text. I have also designed t-shirts, postcards, bookmarks, etc. and researched places to get this stuff printed economically. ( has been great!)

I lined up a fairly extensive blog tour in the months before release. Beforehand, I did hours of research and then sent out notes to bloggers, asking them to join my tour. During the tour, I visited sites, updated links, and left messages of gratitude. Throughout, I’ve spent lots of time writing guest posts and answering interview questions. Some have gotten personal. And, wow. I answer a lot of e-mails these days.

I have done several school visits—my favorite part, as I love getting into schools to speak with kids about writing and Murphys and being someone’s hero—including being one to yourself. These visits have been in RI, CT, MA, and New York City! I am now lining up events for summer and fall. Time seems to be speeding up.

Lastly, I attended BEA in New York last week. With some of my Class of 2k12 peeps, I signed at the famous book shops, Bank Street Books and Books of Wonder. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. I attending author breakfasts where I laughed at Chris Colfer and John Green’s humor and wisdom and wiped away tears at Lois Lowry’s both heart-breaking and inspiring words. I sat in awe of Kamir Nelson’s talent with a paint brush. I hugged Patricia Reilly Giff who blurbed One for the Murphys and then staged some silly pictures with Lemony Snicket.

There is much more but I’m afraid that it will all sound list-like. Lists are great if you want lists—but not if you want engaging blog posts.

The hardest part of all of this? Trying to slow down enough to savor it all. Enjoy it. I know I will always take my career seriously, but I do hope a day never comes when it feels too much like work. I do spend many hours in my office, though, and that’s not always easy.

I started out this post by fessing up to taking peeks at my own book. The people that breathe for me in this book seem to have stepped right out of the pages now that I am receiving feedback that there are others out there that also feel like these characters are real. Teachers and social workers and school counselors are thanking me? Really?

When told that Murphys has had a “profound impact” on a child, I want to thank them—for being there in the flesh for that child and caring enough to give him/her the book and then follow-up.

So, how do I feel as a debut author?

Blessed. I am blessed, indeed.


Filed under Book Promotion, Book signing, Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, Promotion, School Author Visits

Don’t Worry–We Have it Covered

I was so happy the day that Lisa unveiled her new cover for LEAGUE OF STRAYS. I was one of those people who visited her ultra-cool website! It was so great to see—and I was so happy for her—because it has been a long wait all this time while the rest of us have unveiled our covers. But, her cover was totally worth the wait!

I sometimes joke that, as I lie on my death-bed 100 years from now, I will be particularly worried, as sometimes I wonder if I made a deal with the devil that I don’t remember. I have been so blessed in signing with Erin and EMLA and I really can’t imagine a better editor/publisher than Nancy Paulsen. She has been super-supportive.

One such way was in the design of the cover for One for the Murphys.

I experienced the same trepidation that Lisa did the day my Murphys cover landed in my in-box. I took a deep breath, held it, and then click. I should have loved it. I was colorful, had specific references to the book, but there was something not quite right. It was not a final cover—it was rough—and she had sent it to me to ask what I thought of its general direction.

So, I responded with thanks to the people who had worked on it and all the things I liked about it but that it seemed commercial to me. Perhaps it was more like an ad for a Disney show than my literary novel. It was bright, eye-catching, and would have made a wonderful cover—just not for Murphys.

Then, I sat leaning forward staring at my computer screen, waiting for her to respond. Good thing she answered so quickly, as I probably would have collected cobwebs by the time I’d given up. Her response was, “I see what you mean. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”

At that moment, I wanted to paint a mural of her (although, with my lack of skills in that area, it may have looked like a Picasso-knock off.) Or maybe hire a skywriter to spell, “Thanks, Nancy” over the Hudson River outside of her office.

A few days later, I received three more covers—all with girls lying in the grass. Any of them could have been the cover of Murphys, but the one that the design team and Nancy ultimately chose was my favorite. I was thrilled when it came through as the final cover, as it fits the tone of Carley Connors—not just the book but the girl as well.

The giraffe and the basketball that were shopped in are also important parts of the book. They made me feel like this was my cover and not just a picture I liked. I am grateful to Nancy Paulsen and her extensive, talented crew. They’re publishing my book which will officially be released in less than a month!!

And I really do love that cover, because now I have a picture of Carley Connors.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, cover art, Editor, Happiness, Publishers and Editors, Satisfaction, Thankfulness

The Major Role of Minor Characters

If used well, minor characters aren’t minor at all.

We know that minor characters should never be “cardboard.” That every character needs to be fully fleshed out. For example, avoiding stereotypes is good. Not every football player struggles in school. Not every cheerleader is blond and mean. Generally, good characters (like real people) are a myriad of different elements.

Yes, minor characters need to stand on their own—be interesting, compelling. But why include them in the ways that we do? Because they can be an excellent tool in teaching the reader something about our main character. And that is the ultimate objective, isn’t it?

One of my minor characters in ONE FOR THE MURPHYS would have some choice words for me at labeling her “minor.” She’d put me in my place, frighten me, and then make me laugh with her choice of words, lobbing some comment about how I’m drowning in my own gene pool.

Her name is Toni. She’s gruff. She says what’s on her mind even when it will offend people. In fact, if it will offend, all the better. Yes, her self-protection strategies are extreme and they’ve kept her alone. Her walls are high and formidable.

These are some of the things that can happen within a person when they feel like no one loves them for who they really are. Some pretend, trying to be someone they’re not to fit in. Not Toni. And she apologizes for nothing. To a casual observer, she is not vulnerable. Ever. And at the beginning of the book, she considers this to be her greatest strength. A badge of honor.

Toni had found a kindred spirit, though. A fictional girl who had been literally shunned since the day she was born. She is bright and strong and determined. She speaks up for what is right and in the name of those not able to protect themselves—regardless of the consequences. Although gruff (and green) on the outside, she is filled with compassion and love. She is the Wicked Witch of the West named Elphaba from the Broadway musical (and the book by Gregory McGuire), WICKED.

The day Carley meets her, Toni is wearing a WICKED t-shirt, which Carley assumes merely label’s Toni’s personality. When asked to do a social studies project on a person that has changed the world for good, she insists on doing Stephen Schwartz, the man who wrote the lyrics to Wicked’s genius musical score. She dreams of starring on Broadway like Idina Menzel. But at this point, Carley still didn’t understand. All the layers of Toni. But, as Carley changes her perspective—develops an understanding of Toni—a light shines back on Carley, teaching the reader more about her.

As these two girls, who start out as bitter enemies, get to know each other’s hearts and stories they learn how much they have in common where it counts. They develop a shared love for Elphaba’s signature song, Defying Gravity, and its messages within for two girls who are wounded in different ways but both wounded just the same. Who both ache with a void in their guts but how those feelings manifest themselves very differently—yet the same— in each one of them.

Using minor characters in this way is a prime example of writing that “shows rather than tells.” They are there to heighten tension. Move the action. Push our protagonists where they don’t want to go. Sometimes an unexpected reaction from a minor character teaches us something as well. For example, consider the kid always in trouble with a teacher who tries to defend him. Can we possibly draw a conclusion about the child by the teacher’s protectiveness? So, minor characters need to be fully formed, free-standing people. But, in the end, their main purpose is to shine a spot light on our main character.

Consider The Breakfast Club, one of my favorite 80’s movies. Completely dependent on character—a human pinball machine of vulnerability and emotion. Think of how much we learn about each one of those six students because each of them is pushed by another into revealing something they normally wouldn’t. And how much we learn about them by their individual reactions to the principal. If you’d like a reminder of how characters shine lights upon each other, think about pulling this movie out.

If you have not seen Broadway’s Wicked, I suggest that you do. For all kinds of reasons I could do an entire post on. But in relation to this post—the writing in Wicked is masterful. Characters are constantly shining spotlights on each other in the ways that I’ve described. And it is all so organic.
I was so moved by Wicked. I think it drove the writing of the Murphys. I often write with music but never with lyrics. Except in the case of Murphys and Wicked. I never made a decision to choose this music; it chose me. And out of it, Toni was born.

I do love Carley Connors, but I must confess that my favorite character may be Toni. I can see writing a novel some day with her as the protag. And I will then have to create minor characters that shine lights upon her.


**To enter a giveaway for a free, signed ARC of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, go to my website here for directions:

Here is a video of WICKED’S Idina Menzel singing Defying Gravity:


Filed under Book Promotion, Character Development, craft~writing, Happiness, Social Media, Writing

The Heroes of Birmingham

Today, it is my honor and pleasure to help launch Cynthia Levinson’s new Book, WE’VE GOT A JOB—THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH. Not surprisingly, I am focusing on heroes today.

If you ask a child to name a hero, most will cite a cape-wearing one with a secret lair. A die-hard sports fan may give the name of a MLB slugger or a quarterback with a cannon for a throwing arm. A music enthusiast may offer up the name of a pop star. It is the rare child that would offer up the name of a real hero.

Thinking about the cartoon champions that children usually associate the word “hero” with, brought me to Spiderman comic’s quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I have always liked this quote for both its simplicity and depth.

So, why do I bring it up here? Because I’m thinking about heroes and how these children of a volatile 1963 Birmingham turned this well-known quote on its head. How they stared down fear—not to say they weren’t awash in it, but they stepped forward regardless. When met with opposition (which you’ll see is an understatement when you read the book) they pushed forward, even with the threat of personal peril. These children knew that the reverse of the above quote is true as well: “With great responsibility, comes great power.”

Cynthia Levinson’s book, WE’VE GOT A JOB—THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH is a stunning work. Her writing is magnificent, yes, but it is the material that floored me. Yes, I knew of some of the events in Birmingham surrounding the “separate but equal laws” but I did not realize how pervasive it really was. I did not know that every message for a black person in Birmingham at this time hammered the idea that they had no value. I mean none.

In fact, black people were not considered human. Details like the white doctors referring to black patients as “Bo” (all men) and “Bessie” (all women)—that learning black patients’ names was considered unnecessary. How Thursday nights at the State Fair were reserved for “niggers and dogs.” How the tower of the Protective Life Building (ironic name) played “Dixie” every day at noon—just in case any black people forgot who was in charge. These are just a few of many, many examples that make you track back to reread to make sure you read it correctly.

Who? Who could possibly step forward to turn such a massive tide? Who could keep hope in the face of such hopelessness?

The children.

When Martin Luther King asked for volunteers, the children stepped up. He said no; it was too dangerous. But, they showed up anyway. A dozen, perhaps? A few hundred would be pretty amazing. How about 4,000? That’s right. About four thousand children as young as nine years old. Cynthia focuses on the true stories of four children that were there: Arnetta, Audrey, James, and Wash. Her research was exhaustive, including extensive interviews of these people as adults.

Now, if you’re thinking that the children merely stepped forward to go sit in a jail cell and wait, well it was much more daunting than that. The Birmingham police, led by Bull Connors, were dangerous. I don’t want to give too many details from the book away, but those kids had to be brave and determined to do what they did. And their parents had to be as well to let them go.

Like with Anne Frank’s story, adults are moved by children in peril. And the actions of these brave children—and the actions of the cowardly local police department—could not be ignored nationally. President Kennedy had to act. Something needed to be done. The children succeeded where adults could not.

As Cynthia’s friend and blog mate, I know that she worked tirelessly with Peachtree to collect just the right pictures. In this case, each is worth so much more than a thousand words. All in black and white and simply stunning. Pictures of KKK members, smiling. Standing with their young children, also dressed in kind as if they’re at a picnic in the park, yet draped with these ugly white robes—ugly because we known the insidiousness that they stood for. Yes, I knew of the KKK, but the pictures…Wow. And the hope in the faces of the children marching is so poignant. The cover is worth a good, long look. I’ll never forget those pictures.

Our own Cynthia Levinson

It’s a coincidence that I have been preparing to launch my new site/blog, “Be someone’s hero. No cape required” at the same time that Cynthia’s book is to be set free into the world, but it is not a coincidence that I waited a couple of weeks so that these children could be my first post. I dedicate it to Cynthia for her tireless search for the facts surrounding these little known (and also little) heroes that made such a monumental difference; I wanted this post on Cynthia’s book to be my first entry.

And now it is.

Way back in 2009, I heard an excerpt of Cynthia Levinson’s book, WE’VE GOT A JOB and I knew it was a winner. It had a special quality that non-fiction doesn’t often possess. I guess you could say that it reads like a novel—with mental images and emotions. A lack of merely delivering the facts. The words linger as images in the mind long after reading. I was not surprised when I heard it had gone under contract, and I stood and danced behind my desk at hearing the news. Today, I dance again!

I couldn’t be happier for Cynthia and her future readers. This book will make a difference and I think that’s probably the primary wish of most children’s authors. It will enhance knowledge. It will deepen understanding. It will arouse compassion. And I believe it will teach kids in a very poignant way that they, too, can be heroes.

Bravo, Cynthia. You are…*wait for it*…my hero.

Your story breathes. The reader never forgets that this all really happened. I admit to tracking back to reread portions of the book as the truth washed over me. These children were not like my characters, born of imagination.

These Birmingham children were real. No capes. No secret lairs. No utility belts. Just guts and grit and determination.

Real heroes.


Filed under Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, Satisfaction, Writing

Two Quiet Authors and a Wicked Chatty One


Here is my attempt at my first Vlog–a follow up to our own veteran vlogger, Mike!

Please watch to find out which two famous authors join me in this post. (Although they are quiet–they were probably stuffed after dinner?)

Here is the youtube link:


Filed under Happiness, Rejection, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

A Christmas Surprise

Well, this blog entry is going to be a weird one, because I can’t really tell you that much. I can, however, tell you this:

I had planned to go Christmas shopping.

I had planned to order our cards and pick up more wrapping paper.

And I had planned to end the night with treating myself with a trip to the book store.

But, instead, I drove around. For a long time, actually. Eventually, I ended up at the book store but had no enthusiasm for going in and so I sat in the parking lot until deciding to just go home to be with my family.


Well, I’d had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting some really wonderful girls earlier that evening. I had visited a teen shelter to speak with the kids on writing, my journey re: becoming an author, and some of the themes in my book, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. Then, I let each of them choose a couple of journals from a box I’d brought and spoke with them on journaling and how writing can help when you are struggling with emotional things. I talked about writing even if you don’t know what to say at first. How writing, “I’m not sure what to say” is totally valid as long as the pen keeps moving.

I also told them that, if a person is dealing with intense and difficult material, writing in first person is sometimes overwhelming. If they want to explore feelings that they have, writing in third person—writing a fictional character and “giving away” some of their own worries—can be helpful. Sometimes the distance gives the writer some clarity. Sometimes the best way to figure things about your own heart is to take that step away.

Lastly, journals don’t have to be about deep or sad things. They can write lists, addresses of friends, jokes or pictures. Journaling shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be whatever each writer would like it to be. Sometimes that may mean a break from sad thoughts rather than the opportunity to delve into them.

Prior to this meeting with the girls, I had plans of Christmas errands but upon leaving, I couldn’t bring myself to do them. It wasn’t that the experience was bad in any sense whatsoever. It wasn’t that the girls weren’t wonderful to talk with. Actually, it was because the girls were so wonderful. The best.

Two girls, in particular. Their brains were firing. I could see it. One proclaimed that she wants to write a book someday and I told her I thought that she should, but I wonder if I conveyed how strongly I really would like her to. That girl, despite her bumpy beginnings, could really go places. She is uncommonly alert and bright. Keenly observant. And resilient. I could tell.

So, I left thinking about how those girls deserve the best that life has to offer.

I left so, so grateful for the staff members in that home. Obviously caring, thoughtful people and blessings to these girls.

I left wishing that all kids could have loving families. That we could all live in a world with no need for shelters or foster homes;

I left wondering what the world would be like if, as a global people, we could achieve that.

And, I left realizing that getting my Christmas errands done was not as important as I thought.

I’ve added these girls to my Christmas prayers; I hope you will as well.


Filed under Happiness, Satisfaction, School Author Visits, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

The Worry Monster Sinks its Teeth into the Very Unsuspecting Writer

Right smack in the middle of my debut journey, I began to worry. I can’t even tell you why, but I did. The worry seemed to fold over and over on itself like a thick blanket that got bigger every day. It became heavy to carry. And what were these concerns based on? Beats me. It was like I stood on solid ice but refused to believe it was frozen. Waiting to fall through. I began worrying about things that my head knew were not worrisome, but my heart refused to believe. And it was powerful and seemingly unshakeable.

At the time, I have to tell you, I was really confused by this person that I had become. Because, from the time I was able to walk, I have been a fighter. A scrapper. A disheveled kid who often had snarls the size of golfballs. Either bullied or ignored and, oddly enough, in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Teachers had no expectations of me. I mean none.

But, like a good book character, I had big dreams. And a fair amount of grit. I was much smarter than my teachers gave me credit for. I was observant, and I was a planner. I wanted more, and I swore I’d find a way to have it someday.

I don’t share this to garner sympathy. Honestly, I don’t. Because, in some very crucial ways, I was a beyond-fortunate child. I share this because it made this “new me” so much more of a puzzle. I was disgusted with myself, as it felt like I had been braver as an eight-year-old. As a soon-to-be-published author, I had become such an insufferable wuss. Worrying about success?! Honestly, I’m surprised that my pre-published writing friends didn’t chip in to have me…you know… disappeared.

Looking back on it, though, I think I understand. At the beginning of my writing journey, I chased publication as if I had nothing to lose; that’s because I didn’t. However, by the time the Worry Monster bared his teeth, I had more to lose than I’d thought possible:

I had a budding career as a children’s author, which would give me the opportunity to get out and talk to kids about writing and how it does get better and about making the choice to build a happy life no matter what hand you’re dealt; this means a great deal to me, as I know what it’s like to feel like the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit. I also know that the very things that make you feel so different as a kid can become your greatest gifts as an adult.

My editor of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is far better than any idea of an editor I’d ever dreamed of. I have the fantastic Agent Erin who is helping me build a long-term career. And agent mates and writing colleagues that I cherish. I mean really cherish. Who make that kid in me feel like I am a part of something special. Finally.

Now this…is an awful lot to lose. I mean, I’ve always been a big dreamer, but all of this was more than I ever dared dream for, I think. Could that same eight year old grow up to become an author? I don’t think any of my early teachers would have taken that bet.

This Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me in late March. By August, I was just so weary. This is when I attended the fantastic Blueberry Fields Retreat in Maine where I spoke with Executive Editor, Mary Lee Donovan, from Candlewick. I had gotten to know her well at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat months earlier, so I already knew that I liked and respected her immensely. She complimented me on being, “a confident, successful woman—sure of herself, etc.”

My response came from my own mouth yet was a complete surprise to me. I replied, “But, I’m really not.” Immediately after those words fell from my lips, my scrappy eight-year-old self stomped her foot inside my head and asked me, “What the hell are you doing?”  I felt the shift within me. That’s right, I thought. What the hell am I doing anyway? 

Why did the shift occur then? Mary Lee is a talented, down-to-earth, giant in the industry. I respect and trust her opinion. But she’s not my novel’s editor, so I had no worries of disappointing her. I also learned some things when she discussed an editor’s expectations as part of her presentation. It made me consider what conclusions my own editor could be drawing re: my nervousness—and the messages I could unintentionally be sending her.

Okay. That was it. I came home, having had enough of this “not-improved me” and ready to claim all that I had accomplished. To focus on the things I had–the things I already held in my hands. I would not think about losing them. I refused to worry. I took action.

I’ve come to know that *action* is the Worry Monster’s kryptonite. In fact, anything worth having in life requires action to thrive, doesn’t it? So, decide on your own plan of action(s) to slay your Worry Monster (or any of its nasty cousins). Decide in a focused, stubborn, I-got-this-thing kind of way.

Get worked up. Scramble a little. Send out queries. Get feedback. Take chances. You’ll stand taller and your craft will benefit. There’s a lot of power in knowing that you are actively trying. Besides, the hurdles you are jumping now will make excellent, “How I made it” stories later. 😉 Believe it!

I am at peace these days, but it took me a while to get here. The worry monster makes its occasional appearances but never stays anymore. Never will again. Meanwhile, my scrappy eight-year-old self is never far away, reminding me what I’m capable of.

And I’m happy to have her back.


Filed under Colleagues, Controversy, Editor, Happiness, Publishers and Editors, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

The Green-eyed Monster Should Not Stay for Tea

Ah, the green-eyed monster.

Michelle’s post is correct in jealousy knowing no boundaries. It is felt at one time or another by the young and old, the fortunate and unfortunate, and everyone in between. As common as a cold and just as welcome.

We all feel jealousy sometimes. Why? Because it’s natural. Yet, have you noticed that it’s one of the emotions that people deny feeling the most? If a character in a book or movie accuses another of jealousy, the answer is invariably, “I am not!” This is usually followed by a gruff folding of the arms, which some would argue means that he/she is lying.

It’s one of those emotions we are told not to feel–like we have an off switch. Isn’t it better to acknowledge it, deal with it, and give it its walking papers? After all, if you keep it around and feed it, it gets bigger. Wants hot tea and a knitted sweater. Gets comfortable. Maybe invites its cousins over–Worry and Anger.

Important to note that there’s a big difference between the fleeting jealousies of your neighbor’s belly button lint collection versus something that involves our personal or creative lives– where our emotional investments run through our hearts like joists in a floor.

The standard monster does not have this emotional hold. It is simply of the I want to have it and also want you NOT to have it variety. The straight-forward “fear of loss” kind. This is seen, for example, in two toddlers that fight over a toy. Or, perhaps, a battle between a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan. Oh, wait…Baseball fans never feel such things.

The bigger, stronger green-eyed monster begins with a compare and contrast mindset, and is more personal. So, thinking in terms of writers and illustrators, I think creative types—who also tend to be deeply sensitive overthinkers—do compare themselves to each other. But when we talk about jealousy in these cases, I don’t think it’s in the traditional definition of jealousy. I think that most aren’t looking to strip someone else of their success. They just want to make a difference, too.

Knowing our creative lives are a defining attribute for so many of us, am I wrong to think that jealousy has much more to do with our perceptions of ourselves rather than the successes of others? It’s all really about perception, isn’t it? Jealousy is not how you stack up against someone else as much as how you perceive yourself as stacking up against someone else.

I keep jealousy in check by remembering that only I can write my books. And only others can write theirs. I couldn’t have pulled off FALLING FOR HAMLET in a publishable way—only in a My relatives think I’m talented kind of way. I would say the same about any of the Emusdebuts’ books. For example, the amount of research that Cynthia,   J. Andersen Coats  and Jeannie Mobley have done would make something green and sticky ooze out of my ears. Smelling faintly of ham.

And with Halloween so close, wouldn’t that make the neighbors jealous?


Filed under Colleagues, Controversy, Happiness, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life