Category Archives: Research

A Conversation with Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.


“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. vanessa-brantley-newton“When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”

Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and weve-got-a-jobwatched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”

Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. the-youngest-marcher“I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.

Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.

“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”

I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.

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



Filed under Activism, Book Launch, Celebrations, Character Development, Characters, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Research, Uncategorized

Sidetracked by Track Changes

Like Katie, I also turned in my final manuscript to my editor recently. But unlike Katie’s novel, my picture book manuscript has far fewer words. Like, almost a couple of orders of magnitude fewer. Including the back matter, my book will have about one thousand words. (And that’s considered L-O-N-G for a picture book these days.) So editing it should be a piece of cake, right? There are only a limited number of times you can read a thousand fairly simple words, right?

Nope. No cake. No limit.



Even though my editor had relatively few comments (yay!), revising the manuscript took a lot longer than I anticipated. It was also much more interesting than I expected. From the first round of edits to the (hopefully) last, we were having a dialogue through Track Changes. Our comment-bubble conversation led me down side roads, some I had already traveled, most I had not.


Side roads? Oh, yeah!








THE NIAN MONSTER is a Chinese New Year story, a folktale retelling, a trickster tale, and a foodie story. It’s also set in Shanghai. One editorial comment, asking about whether the word “chef” would be used in China, took me down a historical path. I ended up writing a long-winded, horribly didactic, reply-comment-bubble about Shanghai’s history as an international port, the French Concession, and whatever other justification I could come up with. When my editor commented back, “Fascinating,” my inner geek did a little jig of joy. Or maybe just arched an eyebrow. (Note: I got to keep the word “chef.”)



Addressing another comment sent me back to grammar school — Chinese vs. English grammar, that is. The comment was about using the word “the” in front of names of landmarks. We don’t say “the Times Square,” but is it appropriate to say “the People’s Square?” How do English-speakers in China refer to these places? I didn’t know how to respond to this. The little Chinese I know, I absorbed from listening to my parents and suffering through Sunday Chinese School. I knew when something sounded right in Chinese, but I could never explain why. It turns out that there is no equivalent of “the” in Chinese — it’s a language without a definite article. That answer allowed me to choose where to keep and where to delete the “the’s.”


Keep this one?


Or this one?


Or this one?


I did more research and thought harder about my story during the editing process than I had when writing it. None of the history or the grammar I learned will make it into the book. But I don’t regret any of it. More knowledge is never a waste, right? And I love that when I read the text, I see the fingerprints of my mentors, my critique partners, and now my editor. I hope that kids will come up with their own questions after reading the book. Or maybe even the same questions. I know they’re just dying to learn about the French Concession.


I’ll have a cafe au lait, please!

Andrea Wang

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

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang.


Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Picture books, Research, Uncategorized

The Swoonworthy Debut

I learned a new word recently. Swoonworthy: Eliciting tingly delight that may lead to light-headedness.

(As in, “Wow, the final cover of BLAZE is totally swoonworthy!” Did we mention BLAZE by Laurie Boyle Crompton is now officially out in the world? And that you can purchase a copy at a fine retailer near you? MOLLY FRENZEL, you won a copy of this swoonworthy book! Please email, and she’ll hook you up.)

Unlike Blaze’s fiery hair, my manuscript was lacking swoonworthiness. Easy to fix. An arresting gaze here, an electric touch there, and Swoon Ahoy!

OK, the fact that my brain thinks things like “Swoon Ahoy!” should have been my first indication that this was going to be harder than I thought. Maybe I didn’t have a good grasp on “swoonworthy” after all.



Part of the problem was that my teen years were spent with pretty un-swoonworthy books. Good books, but lacking in unattainable crushes, make-out sessions, and hot guys.

They Carried a Lot of Stuff

SPOILER ALERT: They did not carry Binaca or Axe Body Spray.

In fact, in reviewing my personal literary crushes, I wasn’t sure I was even qualified to read swoonworthy YA, never mind create it.


So dreamy.

But maybe there’s more to swoonworthiness than that. With my editor’s help, I eventually got it right. I hope. And I’m learning to appreciate all the swoonworthy parts of the debut process — a request for a full manuscript, a phone call, a contract, ARCs! (I don’t have ARCs yet, but I got to smell a friend’s this month. They smell like YAY.) Despite all the new challenges, worries, and fears, this is an amazing time.

What are your favorite swoonworthy moments, literary or otherwise?


Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Research, Writing, Writing and Life

A Stupendous Glimpse into Fan Clubs

In GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, by Mike Jung and illustrated by Mike Maihack, middle-schooler Vincent Wu belongs to the best Captain Stupedous Fan Club in the world. While another, more inferior, group carries the title of Official Captain Stupendous Fan Club, Vincent and his friends are the most knowledgeable, and therefore, superior.

I was surprised to find that the “fan club” idea has been around forever. In fact, one site that hosts a bazillion fan clubs,, even has a Dinosaur Fan Club with 1600 members, although contrary to Flintstone reruns, people were not readily available to appreciate the object of their desire. Oh, wait, that’s not what they meant…Let’s rewind a hundred or so years ago, before the advent of social media (remember then?). According to Samantha Barbas’ book, MOVIE CRAZY, the first movie star fan club originated in 1910, almost as old as the movie star concept itself.

My favorite superhero, hands down! She rocks that patriotic bathing suit.

Boy, has idolatry changed over the years. Social media has increased interest in fan clubs, bringing together people from all over the world with similar interests. On Facebook, I searched for a Michael Jackson Fan Club and had to keep hitting See More Results until I got Carpool Syndrome. Oh wait, that’s from all those incessant trips back and forth to the kid’s gymnastics classes….sorry, Carpal Syndrome, I think it is. Anyway, I stopped counting after ninety. They came with all sorts of titles to differentiate themselves, such as the much smaller, but more serious Captain Stupedous-like fan club called The Michael Jackson Real Fan Club, boasting 39 members.

I know you really want to know what the largest fan club is at this time. Back in my day, not that I will tell you what day that was, David Cassidy held the honor of being the largest fan club in history with more members than the Beatles and Elvis Presley’s fan-base combined. No surprise there. (Yes, I did finally take down my Partridge Family poster.) Apparently, that honor may go to a Korean boy group called Dong Bang Shin Ki, with over 800,000 fans.

As Vincent Wu finds out, there are many benefits to forming a fan club. For instance, you might get to fly around, chasing gigantic robots or something. A current benefit to joining one today is that it’s the secret way to get concert tickets. While Miley Cyrus may be sold out in about negative-33 minutes after you call Ticketmaster, the members of her fan club get to buy them presale. Who knew? Also, by joining Miley’s club, you get access to over 120,000 photos. Didn’t realize there were 120,000 photos of her, so this comes as real news to me. You also receive live Twitter feeds, whereby Miley shares her philosophy, such as this gem:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving.

Oh, wait, upon further research, that quote’s actually credited to Woody Allen’s film Love and Death. Never mind. Anyway, at least as a fan, you know that’s how Miley truly feels about love.

As you can see, the Captain Stupendous Fan Club originates from a rich and evolving history. You don’t have to be BIG to be important, you just need to have heart. And Vincent Wu, in GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, has loads of that. Too bad it’s fiction or I’d join. Oh, wait, this just in: Mike Jung has a real Captain Stupendous Fan Club card!

Just print and cut out and you, too, can join the club

Like me…Apparently, Mike thought I was worthy, after all….

Oh, yeah, I’m one of the gang now

This makes me wonder, is it really fiction, or is Mike Jung actually Vincent Wu in disguise? Hmmm, do I smell sequel potential? One can hope….


Filed under Book Promotion, Education, Research

13th Century Wales According to Santa Duck and Zombie Buddy


Look, a photo that's been placed here for no discernible reason!

Look, a photo that's been placed here for no discernible reason!

Do I really need to explain this? Really? Come on, a duck, a zombie, and a rollicking good time in 13th century Wales – it’s self-explanatory.

Videographer’s note: the fact-checking on this vlog clip may have been, um, a bit spotty. And Santa Duck had a whole previous life as a toddler’s favorite toy, so he may be a bit rough around the edges as well – Santa Duck’s done some hard traveling. Zombie Buddy’s spent the majority of his life sitting on my desk, however, so he’s fresh as a daisy, at least as far as zombies go.

Buy THE WICKED AND THE JUST on IndieBound! And Amazon! And Barnes and Noble!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Education, Research

My 3-day Blind Date with my Editor

“A writer’s relationship with an editor is a sacred one.”

True words spoken by Kadir Nelson at the Texas Book Festival, 2011

My debut book, WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH, was fortunate enough to attract interest from three publishers. Naively, I assumed I’d choose the highest bidder. Wisely, my agent suggested I talk to the acquiring editor at each house to get a sense of how we’d relate to each other during the revision process. Oh, I suddenly realized, editing JOB won’t be just a mechanical process of deleting commas and making verbs and subjects agree. We’d communicate about the substance of the book, share ideas, maybe disagree, negotiate. Yeah, I’d need to get along with that person.

Ultimately, I chose not only by bid but also by person. The others were very hard to turn down but when Kathy at Peachtree Publishers told me she’d been looking for a writer to tell the story I was proposing, I knew she was as committed to it as I was. But, could we commit to each other? I would learn soon, as Kathy’s bid included a trip to Atlanta, where Peachtree lives, and then a two-day research trip to Birmingham—together.

I was honored by Kathy’s support for the book. But, I also felt like the boy in the Dr. Seuss story who meets up with the green pants in the woods. Was she as scared of meeting me as I was of her?

You don’t have to break the ice with your editor the way we did. But, getting to know each other over a bottle of wine on my son-in-law’s parents’ back porch sure helped. We hugged at the door. We learned that Kathy’s husband collects cartoons. Their five-year-old son adores zombies. This sounds like a real person!

At Peachtree the next day, I met everyone, including the publisher, the receptionist, the artists, the publicists and marketers, the woman who packs the boxes of books shipped from the warehouse, and both cats. And, the doughnuts were yummy. Kathy and I also started on our substantive work.

One of the four people who marched in Birmingham  when he was a teenager now lives in Atlanta. Although I had talked with James by phone many times, we had never met. He agreed to come to Peachtree and to bring artifacts of his involvement in the civil rights movement.

“I love that you still have the flag,” Kathy told James. I looked closer at the framed memorabilia he brought. Yes, there was a small American flag. James explained that he was given that flag at a mass meeting the evening he learned that the courts declared that marchers, who had defied city laws and been jailed and then expelled from school, would be allowed to return to school. What a lovely and important story her comment elicited! (And, you might notice Dr. King in the center of the photograph–with James’s uncle.)

That afternoon, the two of us went to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site for a moving program on the life of the man who inspired and led the events I was writing about. Then, we drove the three hours to Birmingham. Even though I was, again, nervous about how we’d pass the time, talking about Dr. King, other civil rights leaders, the other three marchers, the story we wanted to tell, even recollections of growing up all solidified our relationship.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Today

Washington Booker III by his sign, 2010

Over the next two days, Kathy and I spent A LOT of time together. Dinner at a French bistro I had found on my two previous research trips to Birmingham. Breakfast at the hotel the next morning. A tour of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which was the headquarters of the movement in May of ’63. An extensive walk along the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail, where I found a placard with a quotation from one of the other marchers, with whom we had dinner that night, along with his wife. An interview with another marcher. More interviews the next day, a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and conversations with the archivist.

After assuring each interviewee that her or his story would be respected,Kathy’s comments, questions, and observations were insightful and elicited revealing responses.

  • She asked Arnetta, who is light-skinned if she had ever thought about “passing” as a white. “No,” Arnetta answered. “You are proud of what you are. You are made by God.”

    Arnetta Streeter Gary, 2010

  • “What did you do while you were in jail?” she asked Wash. “We raised hell!” he said.
  • She asked the sister of a deceased marcher about their parents. And we learned that they had realized only recently that their parents had courageously sued the city to be able to use the public parks.

In the end, Kathy pointed out “how exhausting” it must have been for Birmingham to sustain its severe degree of segregation.

At the end of that long day: another three-hour drive back to Atlanta where I expected to thank her effusively and collapse at a friend’s house.

Except, my friends suddenly had to leave town. So, I spent the night in the guest room at Kathy’s house where I got to see her husband’s cartoon collection and their son’s zombie collection.

By that time, either we’d wonder how on earth we’d be able to spend the next 15 months working together or we couldn’t wait. You can figure out which.

Newbery-Prize-winner Rebecca Stead said in her talk at the Texas Book Festival that a relationship with an editor entails “trusting and coping.” Because I knew I could trust Kathy, I was able to cope when she pushed me on several issues, such as the potential demise of Dr. King’s leadership of the civil rights movement. Her questions led me to investigate further, to retrench a bit, and to verify. Because I hope that she learned she could trust me, I also pushed back in at least one instance–the inclusion of Wash’s Sunday school experiences in a chapter on mass meetings. We both trusted; we both coped.

Our field trip to Atlanta and Birmingham and back again was intense, revealing, and reassuring. I had made not only the right decision but also a friend, a colleague, and a mentor.


Filed under Colleagues, Editing and Revising, Publishers and Editors, Research, Writing and Life

Head Stuff

Whaddya do with all that publication stuff? The drafts, the sticky notes, the email messages, the notebooks, the research material, the moldy coffee cups.

MIKE JUNG’s answer: Keep it! And, for good reason: The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which owns art by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photographs of Helen Hayes, and valentines drawn by e. e. cummings, is going to buy MIKE’s memorabilia! Future students of the arcana of MIKE JUNG will be so grateful for every one of Arthur Levine’s editorial comments, MIKE’s eraser shavings, and his coffee-stained manuscripts. Someone might even lift MIKE’s DNA from one of those cups and clone his first-born into MIKE JUNG II!

Me, on the other hand, I took the advice of other EMLA gangos, like Liz Garton Scanlon, and trashed (no, excuse me, re-cycled) my deathly prose. My editor and I communicate via sticky note, too–electronic stickies. We do all of our editing electronically. So, instead of overflowing book shelves, I’ve got a stuffed computer.

And, a stuffed head. Sticky notes are coming out of my ears. Like, “Did you really mean to say the civil rights movement happened in 1863, not 1963?”

But, it’s not just stickies. All the kinds of things that MIKE has sliding off his desk and down his stairs is sliding around my brain. Someplace in there is the answer to where Samuel Clemens kept his inkstand; and where Jabiru is. But, I think MIKE’s right: better on the floor, even the Ransom Center’s, than in the noggin, especially mine.


Filed under Colleagues, Editing and Revising, Editor, Research, Writing and Life

Character is a Place You Love

You know, Lynda, when I started to read your post Setting the Mood with Music, my heart hiccupped. Then, when I got to the part about the coincidences that were happening to you while you were in the Cape Cod town of Sandwich (that is fun to say), all these thoughts bubbled up inside me. Good thing it was my turn to post next or I might have had to hijack the site today.

Across the pond from Lynda

So let’s talk coincidence: Although I live on the West Coast, I am at this very minute only miles away from you, vacationing on Nantucket Island. We drove through Sandwich a week ago, the mayo, mustard, and lettuce jokes flying. We even passed a road sign announcing that we were near “Mashpee Sandwich.” I mean, a writer couldn’t invent something as good as that puppy. But anyway, here I am in Nantucket, doing the exact same thing as you…researching a future book. (Though not hanging out in prison, tempting as that may be.) I have zero plot, though. This is only for the Future File, but I do know that somehow, someway, a story of mine will be connected to this glorious island.

Ah, Nantucket...The perfect setting for a summer romance?

Nantucket is hardly new to the literary world. Many writers have used it as a setting for their books. In fact, I am looking forward to reading YA author Leila Howland’s NANTUCKET BLUE when it comes out next summer. But even so, I feel this place calling to me, and so I have to answer it. Like Jennifer Zeigler, author of SASS AND SERENDIPITY, said in last week’s joint interview with FALLING FOR HAMLET’s Michelle Ray, “There has to be ownership in what you write, even if you are borrowing elements from other sources.”

The more I write and read, the more I value setting as a character. So far, in my own writing, I have not really given it the importance it deserves. I think this is one of those things you learn as you grow and develop as a writer. So though I don’t have a plot, I do have my first character, and it exists in the crunch of discarded crab shells in the sand under my feet, on the long stretches of flat bike paths, in the full moon that casts a silver glow on the surface of the ocean, in the cold, hard glare of the snapping turtle we caught yesterday…or the…oh, okay, I’ll stop. A girl can get carried away in a place like this.

This fellow is inspiration for my next antagonist

I suggest to all writers that they don’t look at vacation as a rest stop again, because our job as a story teller never really goes on hiatus. Even if you don’t intend to use a particular place in your books, a nuance from a setting may pop into your head at a random but crucial point someday. And if you do plan to use a specific place, real details will give your writing unimaginable depth. Your next book, Lynda, sounds wonderfully dramatic. I believe that all books, no matter how serious, are made better when humor is added throughout—and certainly you’ve found instant fun in your description of that hilarious Sandwich Police car, if you decide to use it. If you hadn’t mentioned it in your post, and were I attempting to write about my own Sandwich, I would never in a million years have invented such a perfect detail. But don’t worry, I will leave that delicious location entirely to you, my dear, because I will be busy creating stories across the pond about Nantucket.

Living life to its fullest is the best research. Cheers!

Oh, I have to run now. It’s time to collect details about what brunch is like at the elegant, breezy White Elephant hotel. Alas, writing is SO hard sometimes.


Filed under Research, Writing and Life

“Setting” the Mood with Music

Before I get to this week’s post, shall I announce the winners of last week’s drawings?! <DRUM ROLL>  The winner of the Shakespearean Finger Puppets is…Donna Maloy!!! <Cheers!>  The answer to why Michelle’s book was photographed on a Vespa in Italy comes straight from page 24, when Ophelia reflects on her time with Hamlet in Florence, the happiest time of their lives. She says, “Vespas coughed shrilly and constantly, a sound I will forever associate with intense joy.” The winner of the signed copy of FALLING FOR HAMLET is…Jeanne Ryan!!! Congrats to our winners! We will contact you for your mailing addresses!

The week before last (before the big launch party!) we, here at Emus, were talking about research. I’ve come back to this topic because I have been…uh…researching. I like to call it that, anyway.

Unlike Cynthia, Jeannie, and J. who research facts for information, I mine for facts as catalysts. The facts I gather may or may not get into a book, but I find it very helpful to know things. Small details bleed through, I think. Inform the voice. And I do think that’s a big part of voice—the undercurrents that are harder to pinpoint.

Enter Sandwich. No, not the tasty variety. I speak of a town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, that has been recently voted as having one of the top ten weirdest town names in the country. I must admit, it amuses me to see cars with “Sandwich Police” painted on the side. “Excuse me miss. Has that mayonnaise expired? I’ll have to write you a citation for that.” A place where the local theater says, “Lettuce entertain you” and they really mean it. A place where Sandwich Psychological Services helps sliced cheese deal with the insecurities of being at the bottom of the food chain.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with a juvenile detective in Sandwich. A really great guy—even though he yelled, “See you next week!” before slamming the cell door behind me. You see, I had asked for a tour of the facilities and the details on how a juvenile would be arrested and processed for my next book. I got the run down and sat in a small cell with thick concrete walls for quite a while. I knew the things Peter would notice. The things that would stick with him. Worry him. The stunning losses that he felt and the despair and hopelessness of it. How he ended up in jail out of pure desperation—because, in his mind, there was nothing else he could do.

While sitting on the spongy cot, I stuck the buds of my iPod into my ears and played a song. The music, coupled with the setting is magic for me. The combination creates movies in my head. Conversations. Mannerisms. Too much to write down neatly. My notes are a complete mess after these trips. But, when my fingers touch the keyboard, they become full scenes, complete with details I’d forgotten I know.

I’ve spoken with many writers that listen to music that their characters would like—helps them get into their characters’ minds. (After all, music is a creative form and creativity begets more creativity!) I don’t work that way, exactly, though. I will listen to music that I know will spark a particular emotion in me. I, then, apply it to the circumstances of the book.

I feel kind of silly writing this and I’m afraid it will come off as a bit…uh…dramatic (unless I write something else last minute!) but…the song I listened to in that jail cell has probably never been played in a jail cell before. It was the introductory theme to The Little Mermaid.

That’s because, when I hear that music lately, it reminds me of a time when my daughter loved Ariel. (She has shifted to being more of a Hermione fan these days.) How she loved that movie/music and how I loved it because it brought out so much joy in her. That little girl—my oldest—is going to be a senior in high school this year, and I am preparing to let her go. She’s ready to spread her wings and I can’t wait to watch her accomplish wonderful things!

But…I must admit, the music makes me sad, as I feel the days of hearing her music fill the house, our girls’ nights out together, and getting the after school reports slip away. Countless things will become memories rather than being part of our daily routines, and I have to admit, I’m finding that thought rather difficult.

However, I have to say, it was gold in that jail cell, because I could feel how Peter longs for things he can’t ever have again. I do have to turn the volume up for Peter, as his losses are permanent, much more painful ones. But, when it comes to the writing, all I need is a seed.

And, in terms of setting, there is something about Sandwich I’m drawn to. (Stop laughing, Erin. I never said, “universe.”) It is so odd. I set the book in Sandwich after seeing a single image from town online, which created a firestorm of images in my head. I had not planned on two brothers but, with fingers to keyboard, there they were; and I “knew” their names—Russell and Peter.

After finishing a rough draft very quickly, I was floored when I rolled into this small town for the first time, finding Peter’s Pond, St. Peter’s Cemetery, and Russell’s Corner cafe. Weird. This week, I drove by a house on the way to the marshes that, in my mind, is a character’s house—a character that collects Mickey Mouse figurines. This week, there was a five foot high Mickey Mouse sitting in a chair on the front porch. This week, I also had a very strange coincidence happen at the local glass blowing studio. I have countless examples of weird Sandwich happenings. I figure someone up there must really like me. (I mean Heaven—not Sandwich. Or are they synonymous?)

Through my research, I’ve determined that I will probably always place a book in a setting that I’ve been able to smell. A setting in which I know how it makes me feel to stand within it. I stumbled upon my setting for ONE FOR THE MURPHYS in the same way, and there is no doubt, that knowing that setting as I do, fueled that book in ways readers would never imagine.

Wait! I take that back! Hopefully, they will imagine it!


Filed under Editing and Revising, Research, Writing, Writing and Life

How much research is too much research?

Since my fellow Emus have been discussing research lately, I feel compelled to throw in my well-researched two cents–or, if you prefer, 1.3 cents in Euros, 1.6 Japanese Yen, and half a Russian Ruble. I’ve done my research. But have I done too much?

Just like Cynthia needed to get the facts straight in her non-fiction work, J. and Jeannie needed to set the stage for their historical fiction novels, and Mike needed to get his sorry butt out there and talk to people, I also needed to do some research for my middle grade novel, FLYING THE DRAGON.

One of my characters comes from Japan, so I drew from my experience of living in Japan and teaching at the Yokohama International School. Was it enough? Not even close. I was lucky to come across two teachers from Japanese immersion schools in the county where I teach who were willing to look over my manuscript for any cultural or linguistic faux pas. Hoo boy, am I glad they did. Although I was familiar with Japanese culture on the surface, I didn’t know the ins and outs of daily family and school life.

Nor did I know a whit about kite-making or rokkaku (kite fighting), which also features prominently in the novel. I asked two experts, who kindly told me everything I needed to know. And maybe a little bit extra.

Okay, maybe a lot extra.

Photo taken by me at the very kite festival that appears in my novel. As far as I know, there are no people strapped to any of these kites.

My kite fighting research led to a history of kite fighting and flying. Hey, did you know that people used to be strapped to kites to spy behind enemy lines? Oh, and legend says there once was a thief in Japan who strapped himself to a kite and soared to the top of Nagoya Castle to steal golden fish scales from the roof. He was eventually caught and boiled in oil.

Not that..ahem… any of that’s in my novel…

Meet the fugu fish. Yum...

And! Speaking of fish scales…one of my character’s hometown in Japan is right on the sea, which led me to links on the deadly fugu fish, a delicacy in Japan. Japanese chefs actually need a license to prove they can safely remove the pouch of poison so their customers don’t croak.

Are there fugu fish in my novel? Um, not exactly.

Okay, no. There are no fugu fish at all.

So where does all this research lead me? For one, I’ve got plenty of material for at least one early chapter book about a fugu fish strapped to a kite.

As for the rest, I hope my novel will ring true for anyone who knows about life in Japan and fighting kites. And for those who know nothing of Japan or fighting kites, I hope it will give them an authentic taste.

Just don’t taste the fugu…


Filed under Editing and Revising, Research