Author Archives: Tara Dairman

About Tara Dairman

Tara Dairman writes middle-grade novels and picture books about kids with strong passions and big questions about the world. Tara’s books include THE GIRL FROM EARTH'S END (Candlewick, coming 3.14.23), the All Four Stars series, THE GREAT HIBERNATION, and DESERT GIRL, MONSOON BOY (illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan). These titles have been named to best-of-the-year lists by A Mighty Girl, Kirkus Reviews, Bank Street College of Education, and CCBC. Tara holds a BA in creative writing from Dartmouth College and has traveled to more than 90 countries. After a few years of adventuring around North America in an RV, Tara and her family now live in Colorado.

Time to take the next step

Oh, my feathered friends—the time has come for this Emu hatchling to stretch her legs and race off into the sunset. But first, perhaps, there’s time for one last stroll down memory lane?

I joined this blog more than two years ago, within weeks of getting my first book deal. You might say that I was a little overenthusiastic. I will be eternally grateful to founder Jeannie Mobley and the rest of the early Emus for welcoming me so warmly to the mob.

In my first year, I shared what it was like to see kids read (an early, unedited version of) my book for the first time.   I learned the ropes by helping to launch several Emu books. I made plum dumplings in honor of Jeannie’s debut, Katerina’s Wish, and accepted the dare of stuffing my face with chocolate cake while reading Matilda to help launch Jeanne Ryan’s Nerve. 

To this day, I still can’t eat chocolate cake.


There’s nothing quite like seeing the cover for your first book.

2013 arrived, and I tried to write some quasi-helpful writing- and publishing-related posts. I shared my star-chart method of motivation. I obsessed about selling a second book…and then I sold one.  And then, suddenly, All Four Stars had a cover and 2014 was looming and, lo and behold, my debut year had arrived.

In the first week of 2014, I published my most personal post—“A Different Kind of Call,” about my mom’s illness and the joy of being able to share an advance copy of my novel with her. It went a little bit viral, thanks to WordPress picking it up for their Freshly Pressed page. What an unexpected honor, and my first real experience with a large number of strangers connecting with my writing.

And then what happened to the rest of the first half of 2014? I’m really not sure, though I know I tried (and often failed) to remember that there was life outside of my looming book launch.   We launched Adi’s and Joshua’s awesome novels, and then it was my turn. The Emus were their brilliant, creative selves, inventing “Flat Gladys”s and custom recipes and sending Gladys Gatsby out into the world with all of the love and enthusiasm she could ever hope for.

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

*pets the pretty cover for book 2*

So, now I’m a published author. My day-to-day life isn’t too different from how it was before–I still write, and teach, and hustle to get the next book project going. But I do get the occasional awesome e-mail from a fan of All Four Stars, and sometimes I get to go to libraries or schools or bookstores to talk readers and sign books. (Event alert—I’ll be in Larchmont, NY, this Monday evening doing exactly that!) And, of course, I’m gearing up to do this book-launch thing all over again next May, when my second book—The Stars of Summer,  sequel to All Four Stars—is released. (I just revealed the cover over at my own blog, and you can enter to win a signed ARC over there as well if you’re so inclined.)

So the time has come for me to move on and help make room for the next clutch of Emu eggs. I know that they’re going to hatch into incredible authors, and I can’t wait to read each and every one of their books.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you around on the Internet!




*waves her wing*

*gallumps off into the unknown*


Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN: Agent and Editor Interviews!

Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey LaneThis week, we Emus are absolutely thrilled to be celebrating the launch of Lindsey Lane‘s debut young adult novel, EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN! A twisty, turny, super-smart story about a teenager who goes missing and the people in his small Texas town who are affected, EVIDENCE is an unputdownable read that will be out in the world on September 16.

Here’s a more detailed summary:

When high school junior Tommy Smythe goes missing, everyone has a theory about what happened to him. Tommy was adopted, so maybe he ran away to find his birth parents. He was an odd kid, often deeply involved in his own thoughts about particle physics, so maybe he just got distracted and wandered off. He was last seen at a pull-out off the highway, so maybe someone drove up and snatched him. Or maybe he slipped into a parallel universe. Tommy believes that everything is possible, and that until something can be proven false, it is possibly true. So as long as Tommy’s whereabouts are undetermined, he could literally be anywhere.

Told in a series of first-person narratives from people who knew Tommy and third-person chapters about people who find the things Tommy left behind—his red motorbike, his driving goggles, pages from his notebook—Evidence of Things Not Seen explores themes of loneliness, connectedness, and the role we play in creating our own realities

Want a signed ARC of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, and a T-shirt? Just leave a comment on any post this week for a chance to win!

We’ll have a new post every day this week, delving into the fascinating world of this book, and today we’re kicking things off with interviews of two very important people: Lindsey’s agent, Erin Murphy, and her editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Joy Peskin.

Interview with Agent Erin Murphy

Erin pictureTara Dairman: EVIDENCE is not your typical YA novel. What about it grabbed your attention when Lindsey queried you with it?

Erin Murphy: Well, first of all, Lindsey herself grabbed me. We’d met a few years earlier, when she was just going into the program at VCFA, and I really liked her then–her energy, her focus–but I felt she should wait to sign with an agent after she was through the program, because it can change a writer so much. When she approached me after she graduated, I appreciated how READY she felt. She sounded sure and steady.

And the manuscript itself–the concept was intriguing, in a could-fall-flat-or-could-blow-the-doors-off kind of way, and it blew my doors off. The different voices carried me away. It had incredible potential, and it was one of those situations where I had complete and utter confidence that the writer could take it to the next level. It certainly helped that while she was waiting for me to read it, Lindsey had time to step away from it herself and come back to it anew–and then she did something completely unorthodox: She read it through and wrote herself an editorial letter, and sent it to me to see if I concurred with her thoughts on what needed work. I did, although I had some thoughts to add to the mix, too. I loved that she did that. It showed me how hard she’s willing to work, how self-motivated she is, and how clearly she can see her own work.

TD: Did the unique structure and premise of EVIDENCE make it easy for you to decide which editors to submit it to, or more difficult?

EM: It made it easy. It went to editors I knew would fight for it despite the unusual form if they fell in love with the writing. (And how could they not fall in love with the writing?) I focused on editors who were known for taking chances to good effect, and who were well established. I think if new-ish editors had gotten a manuscript like this, it would have been harder for their team to trust them to have a vision for it–although if we hadn’t seen success on the first round, I would have definitely broadened my thinking about that. Joy Peskin at FSG read it quickly and fell in love with and had a strong vision for it, and worked fast to put together a preempt so we’d take it off the table elsewhere. She and Lindsey spoke and hit it off so well that it felt like we’d found the best possible home for the project, so we accepted the offer. I had thought that because of the unusual structure, we might find just one editor who was interested–the right editor, the one person who really got it. But it turned out that if we hadn’t taken the preempt, we would have had quite a lot of interest from others, too. Editors really are looking for something they’ve never seen before, something completely fresh and new.


joy peskin photo may 2013Interview with Editor Joy Peskin

TD: Most novels have one or two protagonists, but in EVIDENCE, there’s a new protagonist in every chapter. How did this affect the editorial process?

Joy Peskin: That’s a good question. Lindsey’s skill with the range of protagonists is one key thing that drew me to this book. Oftentimes, authors struggle to give multiple narrators (even just two!) distinct voices. But Lindsey was able to create this wide cast of characters and each voice was immediately different. I never got one character confused with another. One thing we did work on in the editorial process was lengthening the book, because when it came in it was a little short. And the way we did that was to weave in a few all-new characters and also to elaborate on some of the stories of the existing characters.

For example, in the original draft of the manuscript, the chapter called “Ritual” didn’t exist. The main character in that chapter, Tara, showed up in the chapter called “Lost,” but she played a minor role. Lindsey decided to give Tara her own chapter, and to tell more of her story, and we ended up with one of the most powerful chapters in the book. So the wide range of characters gave us a unique way to extend a manuscript. Instead of telling more of the story overall, we looked for supporting characters who demanded more of a starring role.

TD: One of the most striking aspects of EVIDENCE, to me, is that some chapters are in first person, while others are in third. Was that something that changed during the editorial process? How did you and Lindsey decide which POV was the right one for each chapter?

JP: Lindsey decided to put each chapter that comes from someone who actually knew Tommy in first person—his classmates, friends, parents, etc.—and to put each chapter that comes from someone who finds something Tommy left behind in third person. I think that worked out really well. I imagine the first person chapters almost like monologues, which makes sense because Lindsey is a playwright. I also imagine that the characters in these chapters are talking to an investigator who is off the page. And the third person chapters are almost like short stories. You may begin reading one and think, “Wait, what does this person’s story have to do with Tommy?” But then you keep reading and see the character find something that belonged to Tommy, and it makes you think about the seemingly random ways our lives overlap. As Tommy wrote, “We leave pieces of ourselves everywhere,” and part of the thrill of reading this book is seeing who found all the pieces Tommy left behind.

TD: What do you think really happened to Tommy?

JP: I hate to say it, but I think something bad happened to Tommy. Maybe he was abducted? It actually really bothers me to say that, because I like Tommy so much, and I wish I could say that he slipped through a wormhole into another dimension. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t think it’s possible.


Thank you so much, Erin and Joy, for taking the time to give us all some behind-the-scenes insight into this incredible book. And congratulations, Lindsey, on your debut!

You can get your own copy of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as FSG, BookPeoplePowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

Please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a T-shirt and a signed ARC of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN by Lindsey Lane!


Filed under Agents, Book Promotion, Editing and Revising, Interviews, Launch, Publishers and Editors

Longing for Balance, Post-launch

On Monday, our newest Emu Tamara Ellis Smith wrote a beautiful post about the longing that accompanies the journey toward publication. It’s a feeling that many, many writers aspiring to become published know, and one that I knew well for many years.

Born on July 10, 2014!

Born on July 10, 2014!

But now, I’m on the other side of the fence. All Four Stars has been out in the world for a month and a half, and I’ll be hanging up my Emu feathers before long. Has the longing evaporated?

No, of course not—but it has changed. For weeks around when my book came out, when my life felt swallowed up by launch-party planning and online promotion efforts, I longed to get back to my quiet, boring, normal routine and write. Finally, the chaos of launch has passed, and I’ve been able to do that, and now I have even more appreciation for it than I did before.

But now that I am writing again, I long to do it better—to dig deeper into my new characters, to send them on better-plotted journeys and describe their actions with more beautiful sentences. I’m thrilled that my first novel has been published, but I long to up my game in future ones.

But most of all, I long to find balance. I want to focus enough energy on promoting my published book that readers will continue to discover it even after the push of launch-time is over. But I also want to write new books. And I want to continue to travel and have the adventures and experiences that inspire my stories in the first place. Basically, I long for my old, prepublished lifestyle to continue while I also integrate my new obligations as a published author into it. A tall order, perhaps, but each day I’m finding my way.

All that said, finally being published after years of working toward it is undeniably sweet. There is nothing quite like a stranger—someone who has no reason to coddle or lie to you—telling you that they loved reading your book. And if that stranger is a kid, even better. And if they come to your latest book event and tell you in person, EVEN BETTER.

This actually happened last weekend.

This actually happened last weekend.

Yeah…life after launch isn’t so bad.


Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Book Promotion, Book signing, Happiness, Launch, Promotion, Satisfaction

How to Fail for Real

Gladys on my mantelpiece. In stores in two weeks!

ALL FOUR STARS on my mantelpiece. It’s been a long journey!

Megan’s post on Monday (“Permission to Fail: Granted”) struck a real chord with me. I’ve definitely had many days when the words I was putting on the page didn’t begin to live up to the pristine version of the story in my head. Days when a shiny new idea, as yet unsullied by my pedestrian writing skills, sang its siren song and tried to tempt me away from my mess of a work-in-progress.

It took me a very long time to learn how to ignore those songs. How long? Well, let me tell you a story.

When I was in college, an alum who had graduated 10 years earlier came to my department to read from his first published novel. Not only had this author been a Creative Writing major, like me, but he’d graduated number one in his class. And while I was excited to meet a published alum, I have to admit that I was also a little bit appalled. Here was someone who was clearly smart, studious, and well-trained. How on earth had it taken him a full decade after graduation to write one book?

After all, I was just a junior, but I had already started working on my first novel. Well, thinking about it—thinking about what a good idea it was, and how brilliant it was going to be once I wrote it. Surely, it would be published by the time I was 22, or 23 at the latest.

Can you see where this story is going? 🙂

I never finished that novel—barely started it, really. Hamstrung by my own perfectionism, I found first-drafting to be completely torturous. When I decided to stop writing it, my feelings were simultaneous ones of utter relief and crushing disappointment. I had wanted to be a novelist since the fourth grade; I had tried to do it; and I had failed.

Years went by before I got brave enough to try again. This time, I was going to write a novel for children. That would be easier, I convinced myself. (Kids’ novels were shorter, at least.)

I worked on that “short” novel for five years. There were times when I let myself get distracted and put it down for months. But I was determined to finish, and I’m still not sure any part of this entire publication process has felt as good to me as writing the words “The End” did on that last page of the first draft.The End

When All Four Stars is published, two weeks from today, I’ll be a lucky 13 years out of college. Pretty pathetic in the eyes of my 19-year-old self…but heroic in the eyes of 22-year-old me, who thought she had failed at being a novelist forever.

It took me more than a decade to learn this, but now I know: The only sure way to fail is to be so afraid of failing that you stop trying.


Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Writing, Writing and Life

I am not my book

My debut novel, All Four Stars, is just about two months away from publication.

Its lovely jacket arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

All Four Stars full jacket

Its first trade reviews have started to roll in.

The book’s New York launch party is confirmed (please come!), and its Colorado launch party should be set up within the week (please come to that one, too!).

I wrote those last three sentences very carefully. Note that I didn’t say that “my” jacket arrived, or that “I” got reviews, or that I’m planning “my” launch parties. I did that on purpose, because—as I’ve been trying to remind myself daily of late—I am not my book.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m incredibly proud of All Four Stars, and I’m proud of myself for having produced it. I worked on it (on and off) for seven years before it scored me an agent and a book deal. My main character, Gladys, is in some ways a lot like me, and her story is very close to my heart.

But, the book is just something I made. Actually, thanks to the long publishing process, it’s something that at this point I can say I finished making quite a while ago. I’ve written other books since, one of which will come out in 2015 (hooray!), and I’ve got plenty more stories in the pipeline. I’m dedicated to my work, and most of the time I love it, but I try to be careful not to let it be the only thing it my life that can bring me joy or fulfillment. (I succeed at this some days better than others.)

Being a writer is more than just a job. The work we do as writers is often inspired by and bound up in our lives and experiences, so it can be hard to leave it behind mentally even when we’ve left the writing space for the day. And then, when it’s finally time for that work to find an audience, it can feel impossible not to take each and every reader’s reaction personally.

But I’m trying. I’m trying really hard, because the alternative is to let everything in, to believe every contradictory review, and to let them drive me crazy. And as much as my writing is part of me—a big, important part of me—it isn’t all of me.

Since this post has gotten a little heavy, I will leave you with a few lines from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q.

There is life outside your apartment.
I know it’s hard to conceive.
But there’s life outside your apartment.
And you’re only gonna see it if you leave.

-From “There is Life Outside Your Apartment” (whose other lyrics, I warn you, contain a delightfully hefty dose of profanity)

Over the next couple of months, I may have to make this my theme song (replacing “apartment” with “book”…or, better yet “first novel,” for the sake of meter). As much the debut process will surely try to take over my existence, I know that there is a life outside of it, a “me” who is not her book—and for the sake of sanity, I’m going to make sure to keep her around.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Panic

Strange Sweet Song Launch: When Cats (and Other Dangerous Animals) Attack!

Strange Sweet Song by Adi RuleOutside Dunhammond Conservatory, there lies a dark forest. And in the forest, they say, lives a great beast called the Felix.

One of the most delicious aspects of Adi Rule‘s magnificent debut novel, Strange Sweet Songis the mysterious, murderous Felix–who may or may not really exist. But in honor of her legendary throat-ripping capabilities, we Emus have banded together to share stories of dangerous animal encounters that really did happen. We swear. (Some of us have even provided photographic evidence.)

Enjoy our tales, and please feel free to share some of your own in the comments!

Tara Dairman‘s Ape Escape:

My husband and I were hiking with a group near an orangutan preserve in Sumatra when an enormous orangutan with a baby on her back lumbered into our path. Our guide immediately recognized her as “Mina,” an orang so notoriously violent that she has her own warning box in the Indonesia Lonely Planet guide. He knew that she was after food, and threw her our fruit scraps to try to placate her. She ate them up…and then attacked him anyway. One moment he was standing there, and the next he was rolling around on the forest floor in a clench with an orangutan! He managed to get away with just a couple of bites, and we all tore down the trail as quickly as we possibly could. We’d already been hiking for hours and I had been exhausted just a minute before, but let me tell you: Adrenaline works wonders. I have never run so fast in my life.

Penny Parker Klostermann‘s Inception-worthy Insects:

In high school, I shared a room with my older sister. We had twin beds. One night she dreamed there were ants in her bed  . . . crawling everywhere. She woke me up and asked to join me in my bed only to wake me up about an hour later because she dreamed the ants were now crawling in my bed. She insisted I move to the living room couch with her. And, yes, she woke me AGAIN because now the ants in her dream were crawling all over the couch. She must have been pretty convincing because we got little sleep that night and I agreed to sleep on every bed, piece of furniture, floor, etc. in our house. I don’t have a picture of these ants to share, of course, but let’s just say they were scary and not to be deterred from following us from place to place in the wee hours of the night.

Lindsey Lane‘s Rat Restaurant Closure:

I heard it when I was writing. About 10 am. Rustle. Rustle. Scratch. Scratch. I knew it where it was. In the dog food cabinet. I knew it because I’d noticed a hole in the bottom of the dog food bag and little nuggets of grain-free goodness trickled out the bottom of the bag every time I pulled it out to feed the hound. I ignored the creature in the back of cabinet. We could co-exist, I thought. But every morning as I wrote, I imagined it growing bigger and bigger. Every evening, when I pulled out the dog food bag with a bigger and bigger hole, I imagined a gargantuan rat lolling in the cabinet with a belly only outsized by its teeth. I called a manly man friend. We went to the hardware store. He told me not to pussyfoot around with have-a-heart traps (they will always come back to their favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, so to speak) or sticky-feet traps (ick…imagine listening to them gnaw their feet to escape). No, the best trap snaps its neck just as it is creeping toward the hole-in-the-wall special: a delicious bite of dog food slathered in peanut butter. A cruel twist of anticipation. So we set the trap. I sat down to write. I heard the rustle, the scratch, the SNAP. Silence. I wish I could say I gave it a decent burial. I didn’t. I did leave an empty, un-set trap in back of the cabinet. I think of it as a “closed for business” sign in the window of my hole-in-the-wall restaurant. So far, the restaurant remains empty.

Joshua McCune‘s Cheezy Tale:

Okay, not so much dangerous, unless you count possible exposure to rabies. Was at the Devil’s Punchbowl on the Oregon coast a few years back when several of the local residents scurried from the brush to surround me. They’re normally halfway hesitant around human folk, but not when you’ve got the scent of food on you. The chirped and chittered and finally I succumbed to their cuteness and sat among them, playing C-3P0 to their Ewok cuteness. The suckers swarmed me. I was no God to them, merely a hindrance on their quest to attain the delicious, almighty Cheez-It.

Squirrel in Box

Parker Peevyhouse‘s Adventures in Babymonkeysitting:

I once babysat a baby monkey. Here’s what it was like:

oh man oh man — a baby monkey I’m babysitting a baby monkey — this is the most adorable thing that has ever happened to me — how is this legal — it has its own baby blanket– so to recap, a baby monkey with a baby blanket — and a baby bottle!!! — it is so cute — so cute how it shows its pointy little teeth when it’s hungry — and makes that terrifying screech like it’s going to eat my face if i don’t feed it — is this at all legal — this is the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me

Christine Hayes‘s Husband’s Paper Route Rout:

When my husband was 11, his mom drove him around on the back of a moped to help him with his paper route. One fateful morning, an angry dog chased them down the street and actually bit my poor, defenseless husband-to-be on the uh…posterior. There were shots involved. Surprisingly, he is not afraid of dogs, but paper routes are another story!

Laurie Ann Thompson‘s Scream-Inducing Skull:

One of my earliest memories from childhood involved an animal encounter in the woods, not with a live animal, mind you, but with a dead one. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and remains one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I must’ve been around four years old, and had wandered past the edge of our lawn into the woods behind. Our beagle, Chipper, was on the scent of something interesting, and I tagged along behind him, secure in the knowledge that he would protect me as well as lead me back home again (obviously wrong on both counts, if you know anything about beagles). Anyway, he soon started baying and digging in the leaf litter. I expected to see a cute little bunny or something hiding there, but when I looked down into the hole I saw… a SKULL. And not just any skull, either, but one from a rather large carnivore, with strong jaws and very, very sharp teeth. The skull terrified me. The teeth terrified me. And now the darn dog had disturbed its resting place. I was sure it would exact revenge. I ran through the woods and across the yard as fast as I could, out of breath but somehow screaming the whole way. I was sure the skull was right behind me all the way, and the relief I felt when I finally slammed the house door shut behind me was immense. Somehow, all Chipper got out of the incident was a dirty nose, but it would be quite some time before I forgave his betrayal, and even longer before I would step into those woods again.


Amy Finnegan‘s Tropical Terrors:

I’ve had many dangerous animal encounters, mostly because there is a large number of animals—and insects—that scare the crap out of me. But allow me to summarize a recent trip to Costa Rica (no offense to this beautiful country, it just wasn’t a dream vacation this particular time). Within one hour of arriving, my 10-year-old was stung by an unknown insect that left a large welt on her back for about two months. The first night in our room, we were swarmed by giant red hornets that had made a nest in a ceiling light. The next night, a crazy bunch of enormous raccoons tried desperately to break through our sliding glass door. Then we discovered that, despite what the brochure said, monkeys are more likely to smear their feces on your shirt than cuddle with you. The next day, our lovely guided, two-hour tour on horseback had barely begun when I was bucked off and landed just inches from a sharp protruding rock that could’ve split my head in two. (“Sorry, Senorita! Your horse is muy loco!”) When moving my toddler’s blow up mattress, I found a shiny black scorpion under it. And then . . . and THEN . . . when driving our rental car the night before we returned home, I ran over a huge freaking PYTHON. Oh, but don’t worry, it scrunched up like an accordion right as I passed over it, and was just fine. I was not. But, my dear amigos, the iguanas were AWESOME!


Megan Morrison‘s Fearsome Felines:

They were small and black, breathing together, curled like one creature in the cage.  Eight legs.  Two heads.  One of them yawned, exposing sharp teeth and a ridged palate.  Against my better judgment, I brought the beasts home and set them free, unleashing a reign of terror. They urinated on my clothes.  They turned my wood furniture to sawdust with their claws.  They vomited in my bed and deposited hair in my ice cream.  Eight years later, I remain in their thrall, taking them to the vet and buying them Friskies pate. Their hold on me knows no end.

Giveaway reminder: Just leave a comment below (or on any other post from this week) to be entered to win a copy of STRANGE SWEET SONG. Feel free to share a dangerous animal encounter in your comment!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations

The Second Time Around

One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard most frequently from authors who have published multiple books is “Enjoy this time—you only debut once!”


You’re official! Now please rewrite this piece-of-dreck manuscript.*
(*Not an exact quote.)

For about a year after I sold my first book, I kind of got where they were coming from…but there was definitely another part of me that thought “Yeah, right. Because it’s sooo enjoyable is it to be a clueless noob about absolutely every single step of the publishing process!”

I regularly felt like I was flailing around in those months. I had no idea when to expect my contract, my editorial letter, my advance check. The conferences that more experienced authors referred to with casual ease sounded like alphabet soup to me. And let’s not even mention the looming challenge of how to promote a book when you have no fan base yet and zero name recognition.

But today, four months before my debut, I think I finally understand what those old hand authors were talking about. It just took selling a second book for me to get it.

Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that All Four Stars will have a sequel. And this time around, I definitely feel more at-ease about the whole editorial process, since I’ve already been through it once. For instance, after I turned the manuscript for book two in to my editor, I found that I wasn’t constantly refreshing my inbox like I did after turning in book one; I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy the enforced time away from that story while I waited for her edits.

But I also have to admit that the things that felt like big milestones for me with my first book just haven’t been as thrilling this second time around.

I took copious pictures of myself signing my first book contract, and my first check. I may have squealed a little with delight when I received my first editorial letter, if only because every page had that official-looking Penguin logo. But that wasn’t really because other authors had told me to “enjoy it”—it was because these were pieces of hard evidence that my long-held dream of becoming a published novelist was really coming true.

The second time around, though, I just signed my contract quickly, wanting to get it back in the mail so my payment could get processed. When that payment came, I deposited the check with no fanfare. And as happy as I was to get my editorial letter for book two a few weeks ago, this time I didn’t squeal over how official it looked. I’d already done this once, so I knew how much work was ahead of me—and that I really needed to get right down to it.

So, I guess I’m on the brink of becoming one of those authors who warbles the song of experience, warning the whippersnappers that they’d better enjoy every little moment of their debut process, or else. “Never again will paperwork feel so exciting to you!” I’ll preach.

But you know what? I’m okay with becoming that person. Where I used to feel clueless and anxious, I now feel confident and…well, not exactly mellow, but at least a little more chill than I used to be. Publishing may not feel like a thrill a minute anymore, but overall, I think that the trade-off will be worth it.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editor, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

A Different Kind of Call

I got a voice mail from my mom a few weeks ago—just 10 seconds long, saying “Call me when you get this.”

My heart plummeted. For a year, I’ve been getting messages like these, and they almost always mean that my mom is back in the hospital. Or, at the very least, that she took a trip to the ER and was sent home once she’d stabilized. It’s the kind of information you don’t really want to leave—or receive—in a voice mail.

But over these past couple of months, things really looked like they were taking a turn for the better. Mom had not needed any emergency hospital trips for weeks. She’d slowly weaned herself off of supplemental oxygen, and her once-enormous trach tube had been swapped for a smaller size. She was getting out and about town, and was even talking about starting to drive again. A year after a string of medical procedures had left her intubated and fighting for her life on a ventilator—half a year after she’d basically relearned how to walk after months in a hospital bed—she finally seemed to be making real progress.

That’s why I didn’t want to return her call.

I didn’t want to hear that she’d been rushed back to the hospital, unable to breathe—that recovery was, once again, slipping out of her grasp.

My fingers shook as I hit the buttons on my phone. Mom answered on the second ring, but then told me to hold on for a second. As I held, I heard coughs rack her lungs, and I knew that when she came back on the line, the first words out of her mouth were going to be “I’m in the hospital.”

But they weren’t.

“I’ve been up until two in the morning every night this week—” she started, and after a millisecond of elation (she’s not in the hospital!) my heart sank again. She can’t sleep. She’s been up coughing. She has bronchitis again, or pneumonia. But then she finished the sentence with “—reading your book.”

“And it was wonderful!” she went on brightly. “You know I’m a slow reader, but I just couldn’t stop reading the story to go to sleep. And the ending is so good, it just left me wanting more. So I just wanted to call and tell you how much I loved it.”

ALL FOUR STARS arcsSuddenly, I was the one who could hardly breathe. This wasn’t a bad-news call at all. It was a great-news call. When I had visited my parents earlier in the month, I’d left them with an advance copy of All Four Stars, my first novel. My mom had read a draft years earlier, and given how long it had taken her to get through the manuscript that time, I’d expected that it would be months before she finished this version. But she’d blasted through it in a matter of days, and was now excited to talk about the changes I’d made and how she could help recruit friends to attend the New York launch party I’m starting to plan for its release.

That release will be just a few days before my sister’s wedding, and if I had to pinpoint a day this year when my mom’s health really seemed to take a turn for the better, it was the day that Brooke got engaged. Suddenly, instead of dwelling on the struggles of this past year and discomforts of the present, Mom had a concrete reason to look forward to the future. And it seems that now that she’s read my book, there’s an extra something to look forward to.

For writers, the year before your first book comes out is filled with exciting milestones. You do final edits, see the pages get designed and laid out, see your cover, hold advance copies in your hands. But the one thing that has surprised me most about this past year is how my book has brought me closer to various members of my family. I’ve reconnected with cousins and in-laws who have middle-grade-aged kids and grandkids. I’ve come to rely on my foodie aunt more and more as both an early reader of my drafts and a final reader (she has a great eye for typos). And now I’ve gotten my mom a little more excited about the book’s launch.

As my debut year—with all of its obligations and stresses—starts to pick up steam, I’m sure that I’ll find myself at times to be in desperate need of clarity and perspective. In those moments, I’m going to try to look back to this call with my mom. To remember what kind of impact the right story, at the right time, can have on a single reader; and to remember that, no matter what reviewers or Goodreads users have to say, my book has already done a little bit of good in this world.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014, everyone.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under ARCs, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

How Being a Debut Author Turned Me Into a Book-Buyer

In a recent newsletter from the Nelson Literary Agency, agent Sara Megibow said “Last year I spent $2,000 on books and $40 on clothes.”

As someone who hates clothes-shopping but loves books, this sounded about right to me!

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all for me.

I didn’t used to be a book-buyer, though. Eight years ago (eep!), when I lived in New York and was just starting to kick around the idea of trying to write a children’s novel, I owned the Harry Potter series and…that’s about it. And I won’t pretend that I went to the library much, either. Mostly I mooched books off friends who were big book-buyers and were generous enough to lend me whatever I wanted to borrow. I probably purchased two or three new books a year—if an author I loved did an event in town and I could get the book signed, or if something called out to me from a bargain bin.

Forgive me, fellow authors. Back then, I had only the vaguest ideas about how royalties worked, about how sales numbers affected authors’ abilities to keep getting deals for new books. I was much more immersed in the theater world, more attuned to the economic realities of trying to mount a profitable (or even break-even) off-off-Broadway show. So I had no problem forking over $18 a couple of times a week to support the production of a playwright or actor or director I knew. But when it came to spending that much money on a new book, I balked.

Nowadays, the situation is almost perfectly switched—I probably go to the theater three or four times a year, but I’m in my local bookstore every month, hauling home a new pile of books. What led to this change?’

Well, leaving New York probably helped; there’s just not as much must-see theater where I live now. And reading the fine print on my own book contract didn’t hurt either. Now I know exactly how many copies I’ll need to sell of my book to break even on my advance and, hopefully, one day start earning royalties.

But honestly, the biggest contributor to my change in book-buying habits is that I actually know a bunch of authors now.

I mean, as much as I liked to pretend that going to David Sedaris and Michael Chabon signings back in the day made us BFFs…we weren’t. But two years ago, when I was just starting to query agents, a mutual friend introduced me to a kidlit writer who had already an agent and a book deal. His advice and support during my own agent search was invaluable, and I remember the day, a few months later, when his first novel came out. I found it on the YA shelf at my local Barnes & Noble, and my heart leapt. My brain let out a string of excited (though thankfully internal) expletives. Holy #$%&! It’s my friend’s book! And, of course I had to own it. (This book, by the way, is the fabulous Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, which went on to win the Andre Norton award.)

Nowadays, I’m lucky to have that experience almost every time I walk into a bookstore. Thanks to my agency, OneFour Kidlit, Facebook, and Twitter, I’ve connected with a slew of published and soon-to-be-published kidlit authors whose work I’m excited to see out there.  It’s been one of the most unexpected but completely rewarding side effects of signing with an agent and selling a book.

The shelf-of-books-by-folks-I-know (minus several currently lent out to friends and students. Yes, I'm the book-lender now!)

The current shelf-of-books-by-folks-I-know (minus several currently lent out to friends and students. Yes, I’m the book-lender now!)

Now, I certainly don’t purchase every book I read—I couldn’t afford that. I make much more use of my local library now than I ever did in New York. But I try to at least buy new releases by authors I know personally (especially debut authors). And my borrowed books often lead to purchases these days, too; when I read a book I love that doesn’t quite seem to have achieved the bestseller status I think it deserves, I often go buy a copy or two to give kids I know as gifts or use for blog giveaways.

If someone had told me a few years ago that I’d one day have an entire shelf at home dedicated to books by authors I knew, I would have told them to get out of town. But I do, and I get warm fuzzies every time I look at it. 🙂


Speaking of buying books for giveaways, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and offer one commenter a free copy of the book that started this whole book-buying frenzy for me: Fair Coin by E.C. Myers! You can choose a hardcover, e-book, or the just-released audiobook version.

To enter, please leave a comment sharing how you choose which books to buy and which ones to borrow. We’ll announce a winner one week from today (on Monday, November 18).

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at


Filed under Agents, Book Promotion

Cover reveal: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman!

Recipe for a delicious book cover:

Start with one strip of sparkling city skyline…
Skyline only

Stir in 22 mouth-watering desserts…
Desserts only

Add a dash of determined heroine…
Gladys only

Season with one generous scoop of lovely blurb…
Blurb only

And get an incredibly talented artist and design team to cook things up…

and maybe…

just maybe…

if you’re very lucky…

the stars will align…

stars only

and you’ll end up with something like this. 🙂

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York’s biggest newspaper—she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

On a menu (by which I mean, in bookstores) near you in summer 2014. Hooray!

Many thanks to amazing cover artist Kelly Murphy (whom we’ve interviewed on Emu’s Debuts before!) and the design team at Penguin Young Readers Group for producing such a perfect cover for my story. Also, today I’m being interviewed by Krista Van Dolzer over at Mother.Write.Repeat. about this cover, the editorial process for All Four Stars, and its sequel-in-progress, so feel free to stop by over there, too, if you’d like a little more behind-the-scenes info on any of those things!

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at


Filed under cover art, Illustrators, Promotion