Category Archives: Farewell

Farewell, Secrets, Memes, Poems, Art for the Sake of Art, Be Who You Are, and Carry On!

The time has come for me to take my leave of this amazing group of debuts, since my Middle Grade debut Foot Davis Probably Is Crazy has been out in the world for several months now! I hope to someday return for a picture book debut, but that may be an impossible dream … (cue wonky music).

imageSo, as I go, I thought I’d tell some not-so-closely guarded secrets. The big one is, writing wasn’t my first love as an art form. No, seriously. It wasn’t! I wanted to paint. I really, really tried to paint. When I was five, I actually had a canvas, and kid paints, and everything, and sat down to copy a Monet, and … well, this went horribly wrong (I think my mother still has lamps with paint flecks on them). I made lots of color blobs, but never anything with a real shape. This type of art, it wasn’t my talent. So, then I took up ballet dancing, and yeah, never mind that, either.

When I did start to wrimageite, it was in third grade, and my first book was of course about horses. The second was about aliens and I still sorta like it, even if it was so totally terrible. In high school, I went through the mandatory poetry and twisty-short-story phase because I absolutely knew everything in the universe and I needed to make ART  (note the big letters, because emo).

I finally came to novel-writing, and young-adult novel writing much later in life, and I have loved it since then. And yet, imagemoments of those earlier artistic dreams sneak in. Lately, I’ve been taking photographs and using quotes from my novels to make memes/posters–not for any reason other than the fact that it makes me happy. Art, for the sake of art. It makes my soul sing. Also–ha–I’m working on a novel that involves horses…funny how that circle comes ’round. Funny, and also wonderful.

So, for all of you coming new to writing, and those of you not new to it, and those of you who are “old heads,” and those of you kind enough to read what we do, I’ll leave you with these oh-so-sage words (excuse the coughing fit as I laugh myself silly):  Come as you are, be who you are–and ART. Just, art.

And, for good measure, here’s a really emo old poem that I used in EXPOSED, in 2007:


The rains

Are coming again I can

Feel them

On my shoulders

At my back


Scrapes my cheek

A cold paintbrush


With unknown pictures

Now, carry on with your brilliance, and I’ll see you all soon!


Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Creativity, Farewell

Pretend These Bunnies are Emus

Because I am much more adept at drawing bunnies than emus, I’m going to ask you to imagine the bunnies below AS emus. It will just make more sense as I bid farewell from the active and move into the Emeriti.


Thank you, thank you all my EMU pals! My active EMU status has expired but the past two years have been special and I will treasure them always. My launch week would have paled without you all and your celebratory levity. I look forward to your launches with joy and will laud each and every one of them. But for now I will be in the Emeriti Lounge.

You all are the very best.



Filed under Farewell, Uncategorized

Debut Out

sound of music

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight.*
                                                             -Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers

Dearest Emu’s and beyond…

When Adi “Appleblossom Catbiscuits” Rule contacted me about joining Emu’s Debuts shortly after I had my first book contract as an EMLA client (Sigh. Faint. Swoon.), I was thrilled (Yay! A new tribe of writers) and overwhelmed (What? A whole new listserv? A whole new onslaught of communication? On top of revisions and copy edits and promotion and, and, and…Oy!). Yeah… at times, it was a lot (Singing opera to my computer?!?!) but joining you mob of birds was one of the best things I ever did.

Now it’s time to leave.

Damnit. I don’t want to leave. I didn’t think I would have to except well, really, after your debut has debuted, you have stepped into a new reality. Simply, you are no longer preparing for the debut, you are promoting that book and writing the next one. It’s time to go.

Before I do, a couple of thoughts:

I went to lunch with a friend of mine recently. He was recounting how much the music business has changed. “It used to be that labels would sign artists with the idea that those artists develop their craft over time and the labels would be there to support them. Now artists are signed and if their product isn’t a hit, well, you know the story.”

I could see the similarities with our business. Many editors have become agents because they want to be in the business of helping a writer grow their career. Publishing is changing and no one really knows how or where it will go. It’s crazy making but it’s going to be okay. Writers, like musicians, have a community. We stick together. We help each other. We cheer and support and tell one another it’s going to be okay. Because it will. No matter what happens. This crazy world will always want storytellers. Whether we publish traditionally or paint on walls or self publish or drip blood from our veins. The world wants stories because stories lift us out of our lives. They make us laugh and cry and think and sigh. They make our lives

So everyday, think about your community: other writers, readers, editors, agents and do what you can to weave us together. Gratitude, praise, cheering, thoughtful comments. (That’s how I will stay connected to you birds now.) It all matters. Because no matter how fast this world moves or how much the sands of publishing shift beneath us, we are storytellers, weavers of words and worlds and we are responsible for how our community grows.

Which leads me to my next bit of wisdom. It’s not really mine. It comes from my agent Erin Murphy. A year ago, I was totally stressing about promotion: How do I do it? Should I hire someone to help me? What do I do first, second, third? She said: “Write the next book.” What? But. But. But. Aren’t I supposed to…?

write bookWrite the next book. If your readers like your book, they will want to read the next one. Your publisher wants you to write the next book because it will sell the first one. You need to write the next book and the one after that because that’s who you are now: an author. A published storyteller. A world builder. Write the next book and the one after that so you can keep growing.

What about promotion you wonder? Well, it’s definitely a job you have now because you have this book and you do want to do things to get it in the hands of readers and generate interest. But it’s a balancing act. Here’s what I do: I respond to everything that comes in. Awards. Speaking engagements. School visits. But I’m careful about how much I have to go out and generate. You don’t want to spend a whole lot of time, energy and resources (i.e. your writing capital) promoting. For instance, If you’ve been invited to a book festival in a city, great. Go. Then spend some energy putting together a school visit in that city. Make it make sense. But if the promotion is taking too much time away from writing, then you are out of balance.

Yeah, so that’s it. I’ve cleared off my desk. I’m out the debut door. But I’m right down the hallway. In a room with a whole bunch of other authors. I’m saving you a spot.



*A word about song lyrics. Trying to get the rights to use them in your novels is soul-sucking process. Avoid it at all cost:


Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness

A Fan Letter to Readers


Dear Readers Everywhere,

I know you probably hear this a lot, but I’m seriously your biggest fan! I’ve wanted to meet you for over a decade, and now that it’s finally happened, I’m totally FREAKING OUT!

You know that one day when you said how much you loved my book? Oh . . . my . . . gosh. My heart was beating a million times a minute. I keep wondering if you’re all secretly related to me, or if maybe my mother has made a hundred or so sock-puppet Goodreads accounts just so she can encourage me to keep writing.

But then you tell me you’re from the Philippines, or Texas, or Canada, or London, or Slovenia, or that gorgeous African island of Mauritius, and I just can’t wrap my head around it! And never in a million years did I think that even one of the 1.2 billion people in India would even know I existed, let alone be excited to read a novel I wrote! Like . . . what?!

You do realize that I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people, right? That the most outrageous thing I ever dreamed of was going to Hawaii one day? And when that happened at sixteen (my first plane ride), I thought, “Wow. That’s about as good as life can get.”

But then I decided to be a writer. And I hoped people would actually like what I wrote, enough to even pay money for it. But I soon learned that this dream was, as some teenagers today might have told me, totes cray cray.

I had no clue whatsoever how much work would be involved, or how many times I would get my heart broken, or feel like a complete and utter idiot for even thinking I could become a published author.

But you, super-awesome readers, have changed everything. You’ve made me believe that all of the hard work and heartache was not only worth it, but have given me so much HAPPINESS that I’m jumping up and down with jazz hands in the air, wanting to do it all over again!

So sign me up for even more writer’s block, and self-doubt, and pulling my hair out! Go ahead and toss in some of that heartache and rejection! That’s right!

I’m ready.

This time I’m well prepared for the crazy/awful/awesome pathway to publication, because I now know who’s waiting for me at the end of it.



All of my fan-girling love and deepest gratitude,

Amy Finnegan, Published author of NOT IN THE SCRIPT, Bloomsbury 2014 (OMG!!!)

Book for Chris

Just one of many amazing people I signed a book for in the past month! #Star-Lord


Gabrielle from New Hampshire. The first reader I know of to spy it & buy it in the wild!

_________________________________ IMG_0723-2

Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, Instagram: StrangerThanFictionWriter, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).


Filed under Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, reading, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Updates on our Books!, Writing and Life

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

Flumbling Toward the Wild Air


verb \ fləm-bəl\

: To fly and stumble or stumble and fly. In no particular order

This EMU is sprouting his dragon wings and flumbling off to the evacuated territories. I go slowly, glow low, with many a look back. On my back are the cookie monster and big lady doubt, constant companions in my struggle to stay afloat. Behind me is a trail of smoke that shall fade to invisible but will forever be connected to those who have helped me fly.

In TALKER 25, I didn’t have an acknowledgments section, that place where you get to thank agents, editors, other authors, the men and women of the armed forces, and those people out there who taught you about the wild air and how to drink it…

Ultimately, it’s a chance to thank the community of people that have in some form or fashion helped you be part of a community.

Until EMU’s Debuts, I never really had a community. I have been a lone dragon my entire life, sometimes an outcast (hello, junior high & high school), sometimes a hermit (hello, everything after). Smaug laying low in my gloom cave with my invisible mates, Mr. Cookie and BLD.  I had never been to a writer’s conference, never interacted with critique groups, and other than some online interactions across the ether, had walled myself in. Built the stone thick and high to show my strength and hide my weakness.

But writers, they have a way of seeing through walls, of knowing what lies on the other side, because, well, they bleed in many of the same ways. More importantly, they know how to stem the bleeding, whether it be through empathy, insight, or just through sheer force of parallel perseverance.

And that’s what the writers here at ED have done. Viagra for the soul. Your heartstrings have helped tug my heartstrings onward, even when I’ve felt like slipping behind and putting my head in the ground. But we aren’t damn ostriches. We’re EMUs!

So I flumble onward, knowing that I’ve got you at my backs. Always there, squawking at our special frequency.

Thank you.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose. Thank You

Flumbling toward that wild air. Thank you!

How about a graph? (Note: when no convenient segue will fit, why not go for the non-sequitur?) My left brain insists that I include some statistical metrics in here to catalog my wobbly flight path from chick to dragon:

Revision Metrics

What does it all mean?!

So I did a basic search for certain helper words and adverbs and graphed them against word count to see how much they changed with edits. The variation was comparable to word count variation. What does this tell you? Don’t sweat the small stuff? That those rules about ‘justs’ and adverbs might be overblown? Not sure.

One thing that went against the trend was my use of curse words. Not sure what that means, either, but fuck, yeah!

(Note: when I first joined the EMU’s, that was one of my questions. Can I curse? I was told that I couldn’t go beyond pg-13. Well I finally shot my wad ;))

Lastly, I want to thank you, reader, because without you, well, this whole insane journey of seemingly quixotic flumbling would be ten powers of crazier. I know that many of you are writers, too, flumbling up, down, and around the mountain along heartstring pulleys, and I wanted to offer a bulleted writing guide I condensed from Robert McKee’s STORY as a token of my appreciation.


  • Seek truth
    • Below the surface, inside the character
    • Not directly observed (Joshua’s note: the visual truth vs. the emotional truth)
  • Turn every scene
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • Make climax absolute/irreversible
  • Know your world
    • Not knowing your world/characters invites cliché
  • Put characters under pressure (conflict)
    • This will let you SHOW their true nature (visual truth vs. emotional truth)
  • Never explain -> Dramatize (show don’t tell)
  • Draw idea from action, not reverse
    • Don’t write the action to conform to the idea, let the action organically generate truth.
  • Make your protagonist willful
    • They should have a conscious desire
      • Maybe give them a self-contradictory subconscious desire.
    • Make your protagonist empathetic (not necessarily sympathetic) – (Joshua’s note: G.R.R. Martin’s characters)
    • Make the world act differently than expected – realism/avoids cliché.
    • Act the role (reading dialog can do this, to some extent, but actually act out elements for authenticity)
    • Introduce coincidence early, then dramatize so it’s no longer a plot point, but a critical element.
    • Find visual expression for inner conflict (not dialog. Joshua’s note: limit introspection)


  • Lack progression
    • Causes bland/boring text
  • Employ false motivation
    • Causes bland/boring text (Joshua’s note: pisses off reader)
  • Have redundant characters
  • Use empty subtext
    • The more dialogue you write, the less effect it has.
  • Have holes
    • Plot or character
  • Write how somebody should act
    • Leads to cliché.
    • (Do): get inside, draw on your own emotion/experience.
  • Overstuff ideas
    • Leads to overcomplexity, holes, confusion, skepticism.
  • Proliferate characters
    • Minimizes effect/authenticity/importance
  • Multiply locations
    • The larger the world, the more diluted the writer’s knowledge, the more prone to cliché
  • Use coincidence beyond the mid-point of the story.
  • Overly specify motivations
    • Diminishes authenticity (we often don’t know our exact motivations, and we often don’t consider them in the moment)


  • To live life meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.
  • Bit parts should be flat, but not dull.
    • Too interesting leads to false anticipation.
  • Melodrama is not a result of overexpression, but under-motivation.
  • Multiplication of acts invites cliché, reduces the impact of climaxes, and results in redundancy.
  • Repetition of experience reduces emotional impact
  • The choice between good/evil, right/wrong is no choice at all.
  • Dimension means contradiction.
    • Humans are by nature contradictory (Joshua’s note: emotions and/or conscious vs. subconscious desire).
      • Contradiction should be consistent (Joshua’s note: GRRM characters).
    • Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.
    • 3-act design is the MINIMUM.
    • Meaning produces emotion.
    • Characterization = the sum of the observable (the person outside the mask).
    • Character = the person behind the mask.


  • Why is this scene in the story?
    • Show character & advance plot &…
  • Do the protag’s stakes change?
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • What is the risk?
    • The higher the value, the higher the risk (Joshua’s note: no death battles over the last chocolate chip cookie, unless that cookie saves the world).

Take risks. Live life meaningfully. Or, as Emerson put it, infinitely better: Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity.


JM AP Close_Straight

Joshua McCune is the author of the Talker 25 trilogy (Greenwillow). Dragons, war, romance (though not with  dragons – I don’t do bestiality). The first book is now available. For more info, visit or


Filed under Advice, Farewell, Writing

Luciferadi Meeps Goodbye

Friends, I believe I promised you something. And that something was Peter Pan with boobs. peterspans Ruth, who is my favorite, found an image of one of the covers of the Peter Pan comics I mentioned earlier, which are apparently not comics at all, but coloring books.

(Does the fact that these are coloring books make this even worse?)

(Do I even mean “worse,” or do I mean something else entirely, maybe the opposite of “worse”?)


Anyway. Here’s some stuff I’ve noticed now that my first book is out.

Nothing changes. If you go into this business because you’re a writer, and not because you want a book with your name on it sitting in bookstores, then your writing life kinda goes on as usual regardless of where you are on your path to/in publication. Ideas, drafts, revisions, panic, critique groups — you’re still doing what you’ve always done. If your debut is wildly successful (which it probably won’t be, and you won’t even know for at least months), you will possibly be doing what you’ve always done only with more money.

Except for the stuff that changes. OK, so now there is a book with your name on it sitting in bookstores. That’s pretty cool! Also you might have a lot less time to write your next book. (That’s probably a good thing.)

BTW, you need more swag. This might just be me, but I come from a performance background, and the one thing we do not need any more of is headshots. In most cases, you have to buy like 500 of them at a minimum, and they’re good for just a couple years until you get fatter or skinnier or older or cut your hair or whatever, so most of them end up lining the bird cage. So I went into swag preparations with the same mentality: “Oh, you can get just 100 bookmarks? Sounds perfect!”

No. Get more bookmarks. Get hundreds. I got mine at Overnight Prints, and they weren’t that expensive. People love bookmarks (they’re free!), libraries and bookstores will often be happy to stick a pile of them somewhere, and you will run through them hella fast. I’m from New Hampshire and we don’t even say “hella”; that’s how fast you will run through them.

People will love your book! Really. You know how you worked really hard on it, and then you revised it, and you thought about everything, and all those sentences and paragraphs and chapters are as good as you could make them? And you know how your agent and your editor believed in this book and helped make it better, and how a whole bunch of dedicated people like copyeditors and designers put their $0.02 in as well, and you all eventually came out with a final product that reflects everyone’s hard work? People get it! They do! They understand the layers, they get what you intended to say, they’re rooting for your characters, and they love your book!

loveExcept when they hate it! Yeah. This too. Unless you are very, very lucky — and please notice that I’m not saying, “Unless you are a very, very good writer . . .” — there will be people who hate your book.

Hate. It.


At first, I was surprised by the impressive variety of hate. Random people have hated things about my book that no one ever mentioned, or even thought about, before it was released. I won’t go into specifics (they’re easy enough to find if you’re curious), but let’s just say there’s some creative hate out there. Like, I don’t see how people have time to hate details as inoffensive as some of the ones that have caused actual humans to despise reading my book so much that they take more of their time to trash it online (with GIFs!). But, you know, there are things that inexplicably bug me as well, like Cabbage Patch dolls (BURN THEM ALL), and everyone’s entitled to that. And of course, not everyone who had a problem with an aspect of the book hated it overall. I’ve gotten some incredibly kind and positive reviews that include lines like, “Well, except for the fact that this book mentions stupid potato salad, I really enjoyed it.”

But don’t get me wrong. This is not about bashing negative reviews or praising positive reviews. (Or vice versa.) This post is for you, my fellow writers, and what I mean to say is that you should be prepared to be completely surprised by what others have to say about your work, whether it’s nice or nasty, thoughtful or pea-brained, loud or soft. And the fact that your book is out in the world with people talking about it is pretty damn cool.

Readers are awesome. Since my launch, I’ve had great conversations with and feedback from readers of all ages. And sometimes awesome things happen. For example:


This is Gordo. He’s a poet. This is him reading my book at the Monadnock Pastoral Poets Retreat. I’m told he started it, said he was hooked, and read it all weekend!


This is Harvard Dangerfield, a Boston celebrity Samoyed and a very handsome boy!

strange sweet song s

And this is an AMAZEBALLS illustration of two of the characters in Strange Sweet Song by artist Stephanie Piro[Correction: THREE of the characters.]

And so many other things. I have had teenage girls bring their own copies of my book to signings for me to personalize, or ask me questions about writing, or tell me about the stories they’re working on. That is the best.

So this is my ultimate post here at Emus Debuts. And by ultimate, I mean “last,” rather than “best,” although a post that includes Peter Pan boobs is going to be tough to beat. I considered doing a video retrospective of all the batsh*t pictures I’ve posted here since the beginning, with like some sweeping Oscars music, but then my brain was like, “You have been living on Ny-Quil and Red Bull for four days and this is not a good idea.


Bye, friends! If you still want to hang out, come and find me elsewhere on the ‘Net:

* * * Website! * * *

* * * Blog! * * *

* * * Twitter! * * *

* * * Facebook! * * *

Next launch up is Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars, coming 7/10/14 to a fine bookseller near you. And you guys, I read the ARC, and it is fantastic. Gladys Gatsby is resourceful, smart, funny, and real — the kind of main character you want to follow through All The Books. So stick around the ‘Mu nest for more deets on Gladys, Tara, and all the other amazing upcoming debuts!


UPDATE: I just discovered that Emu Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was holding out on all of us, and in fact has a dragon BFF inspired by Joshua McCune’s Talker 25.

They solve mysteries together.



Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Farewell, Happiness, Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

A common thread: Reader response to SOPHIE’S SQUASH

SJPAs a debut author, you spend large chunks of time getting ready for your book to go out into the world.

You edit, proofread and spell-check. You mail postcards, blog and promote. You check your sales numbers and Amazon ranking regularly.

But one part of being a debut author took me a bit by surprise. While I had spent a lot of time getting my book ready to go, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how others might respond to it.

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow MillerBut soon after SOPHIE’S SQUASH, my tale of a little girl who falls in love with a butternut squash named Bernice, was released in August, I started hearing from readers. They contacted me through Facebook or my website with stories. Among other things, I received:

  • Video of a girl reading my book and saying how all she wanted was a squash for Christmas.
  • Pictures of beaming children holding squash, pumpkins and watermelon with drawn-on faces. (The picture with this blog is just one example.)
  • Stories from parents about how their now-grown children had fallen in love with apples, heads of garlic, bananas and other forms of produce.
  • Mentions that the book was going to a real-life Sophie (usually a younger girl) or a real-life Bernice (usually an older woman).
  • Hand-drawn cards.
  • Photos of librarians who had created displays featuring Bernice and her friends.
  • Wonderful blog reviews.

I was pleased to know that kids and their parents could find some truth in my book. And I am grateful for each and every story that was shared with me. But the one below might just be my favorite. It arrived in my inbox yesterday from a woman I went to high school with. I haven’t seen her in years, but here’s what she wrote:

A friend of mine has a 6-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. He fell in love with a small pumpkin around Halloween and was reading to it, sleeping with it and asking if he was being a good daddy to it. His mom started to get worried about what was inevitably going to happen. I gave her a copy of SOPHIE’S SQUASH, and it was perfect. He totally got it and was excited to plant his pumpkin. His mom bought copies of the book for his school and synagogue, too!

And that, I think, is why writers write. In the hopes that their story contains something universal that will help someone else understand something better, handle a difficult time more successfully or remember something they’ve always known, but have temporarily forgotten.

This isn’t something you can control as a writer. It’s hard to say, “Now is the time in my revising where I’m going to add the part that will strike a chord with like-minded readers.” But you can increase your odds of success by always being true to the story you want to tell and not shying away from feelings that are uncomfortable. Because, often, that’s where the common thread of humanity is — in the less-than-pretty parts.

And you may not know if you got it right until the cards and emails start arriving.

I’m saying goodbye to EMU’s Debuts with this post so other authors with bright-and-shiny new books can use the space.  As I go, I thank every person who has read my posts, supported my efforts and been so very positive. Some of you I know well, while others I haven’t met. But you’ve all made being a first-time author even more fun than I always hoped it would be.

I have more picture books in the works — two will be published in 2015 and one at a yet-to-be-determined date. They’re all quite different than SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but I hope their readers find something in them to connect with as well.

And if they do, well, that will be better than any sales ranking could ever be.


Filed under Farewell, Happiness, Thankfulness, Writing

Take This Personally. No, Really.

T-ShirtHilariousHey, all! For my farewell post here at the EMUs, I have a burning desire to talk about reviews and how to survive them.

My debut novel, Radio Girl, has been on the shelves for a few weeks now. Reviews are cropping up in journals and stuff every few weeks. I’m lucky in that mine have been largely favorable, but you know how it goes when you’re being critiqued–it’s the negative parts that stick with you. Those words become forever seared into your brain. It might even make you sick to your stomach, knowing that thousands of potential readers will read that one negative sentence in an otherwise glowing review and take a pass on your novel, the work that took you so many months (years, decades) to craft.

Seasoned authors will advise you not to take the comments personally, but gads. How can you not?

I’ve developed a way for me to focus on the praise in a review (works for a critique, too!) by picking out positive words and phrases from it that would be fun to wear on a T-shirt. When printed on a shirt, these phrases automatically become connected to the wearer. So, in a way, by imagining myself sporting these T-shirts, I’m taking the review extra personally. The good parts, I mean. Make sense? Here are a few shirts I’ve designed, with phrases taken from reviews of Radio Girl:



OK, maybe “cringeworthy” isn’t that flattering, but it makes me smile anyway.


See? I’m the epitome of moxie! The reviewer said so. Funny how this eases the sting. What about you? In the comments, won’t you all share some positive phrases from your critiques or reviews that would look good on a T?

In conclusion, let me thank the other EMUs, both current and emeriti for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing blog. My time here is ending, but my interest and support never will. There are so many awesome books coming out of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency in the next two years–I’m sticking around to watch them all debut. Hope you will, too.

Fondly yours,

Carol B.
CarolSmilingCarol Brendler is the author of the young adult novel RADIO GIRL (Holiday House) September 5, 2013.
Coming 2014: A picture book, NOT VERY SCARY, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, from FSG.
Also by Carol Brendler: WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER (FSG, 2009) a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt.


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Farewell, Reviews

Tara Lazar Says Farewell and Shares All the Things She Learned: The Good, The Bad and The Sparkly

Let’s jump right into it, shall we?

hurdlesThings I Learned During my Debut Process:

  1. Landing an agent and selling your debut book isn’t THE hurdle. It’s THE FIRST hurdle.
  2. Not being in Barnes & Noble does make a difference in your book’s success, no matter how many well-meaning people try to assure you otherwise.
  3. Being in Barnes & Noble does not guarantee your book’s success.
  4. You will read reviews of your book that will leave you scratching your head, wondering if it’s really YOUR book the reviewer read.
  5. Just because you have thousands of social media followers doesn’t mean they’ll actually buy your book.
  6. Just because you publish a book with Simon & Schuster doesn’t mean people who schedule author appearances will want you. You’re still just small potatoes. Think fingerling instead of Idaho.
  7. You’ll check your Amazon ranking more often than you care to admit and you’ll cringe every time it goes over 100,000.

OK, maybe all that is a little too depressing. But c’mon guys, this stuff is HARD. This is not an easy business. I knew this when I was trying to break in, but somehow I thought once I did break in, everything afterwards would be a breeze—a warm, tropical breeze with notes of pineapple and coconut. WRONG. There’s no pool-boy fluttering a giant leaf fan. Subsequent books have taken MONTHS to sell…and one took AN ENTIRE YEAR! And I have more in the works that are likewise taking months. And there were even more books that didn’t sell at all. Phhht. Dead in the water. And no pool-boy to fish them out!

But let’s look on the bright side. I’m an AUTHOR now! Woo!

Yes, that was a sincere “woo!” Let’s try it again: WOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo……………! (Those periods are really tiny o’s.)

Things I Loved During my Debut Process:

  1. monstoresmallcoverAll the terribly exciting moments along the journey—seeing my characters for the first time, witnessing the progress of the dummies, revealing the cover, hearing the satisfying KA-THUNK of the author copies box hit the front porch, signing my very first book for a complete stranger.
  2. Holding MY BOOK in MY HANDS.
  3. Making incredible friends—my editor and art director, my illustrator, the imprint staff, fellow debut authors, booksellers, librarians and fans.
  4. Gaining a lot of publishing business wisdom.
  5. People sending me photos of the book spotted in the wild, face-out at bookstores.
  6. Receiving my first pieces of fan mail.

But the most important one is:

  • Seeing kids interact with my book and the joy it brings them.

Kids drawing MONSTORE monsters at Little Jo’s Books in Katonah, NY

princetonbookfestivalAnd there’s things I’m going to love that haven’t even happened yet! This weekend I’ll be at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival and the weekend after, The Baltimore Book Festival. I’ve been going to the Princeton festival for years and can’t believe I will be there signing books! Me!

And Baltimore! I’ll be on a stage! On a panel! And people will want to hear what I have to say! BUT WHY?!

After all, I’m still just Tara, wife of Alan for the past 14 years (today’s my anniversary! OMG! I almost forgot!), mother of two girls who find me terribly embarrassing, and neighbor who you’ll find scootering her kids to school while wearing ninja jammies. (That explains the embarrassment.) I’m still the same person I was before the book contract. I haven’t transformed into a sophisticated, radiant being. I lose socks in the laundry, forget to RSVP to birthday parties, and schlep to the grocery store with yesterday’s makeup smeared under my eyes. There are holes in my couches, too much junk piled in my garage and questionable looks when I drop off my kids wearing ninja jammies for the third day in a row.

But how cool that I can be my same dorky self and share my dorkiness with children through my books! Hopefully I’ll gain fans who will want every one of my releases and will never know me as un-radiant. To them, I sparkle.

And so I leave you with this: it’s a wild journey, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. The dream was to sell one book, and that dream came true, so a new dream has replaced it. That dream is bigger, brighter and more daring. Will it come true? I dunno. Stay tuned.

And remember, be sparkly!

Fare-thee-well and have fun stormin’ the castle,

Princess Bride-Tara Lazar

P.S. It’s not farewell forever, just at Emu’s. You can still follow me and my jammies at

P.P.S. Photoshopping by the talented illustrator Kayla Skogh. Thanks, Kayla!


Filed under Farewell, Updates on our Books!