Tag Archives: Tara Dairman

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 taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

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 taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


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

Gladys Gatsby is Amazeballs!


Mise en place. Note small, sneaky hand at bottom right.

As I read Tara Dairman’s delicious ALL FOUR STARS, my mouth watered.  I longed to eat all the delightful desserts described therein.  What better way to celebrate Tara’s delectable debut than to eat something scrumptious?  And what better way to honor the indefatigable Gladys Gatsby than to invent a dessert?

And so, in the spirit of Gladys, and because ALL FOUR STARS is, let’s face it, totally amazeballs, I decided to invent some, you guessed it:


The vague vision: The final product would be 1) shaped like a ball and 2) amazing enough to please Gladys.  Maybe it wouldn’t garner all four stars – that’s a little ambitious for the first draft of a new recipe – but perhaps I could achieve three! I initially thought about adapting a Mexican Wedding Cakes recipe, because those things are heaven.  But then the author herself, Ms. Tara Dairman, mentioned something about how she thought amazeballs ought to involve coconut.  So I decided to make…

Spherical mini-lamingtons!  Don’t know what a lamington is?  You clearly have not watched enough episodes of MasterChef Australia.  A lamington is a square serving of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Part 1: Baking

BookTo satisfy a true gourmet like Gladys, I knew I’d have to aim high.  So I opted to use Julia Child’s Biscuit au Beurre butter sponge cake recipe, which I won’t reprint here because I don’t have permission (any good sponge cake recipe will do).

EggYolksI recruited my three-year-old sous chef to help me with the process.   For some reason (temporary insanity?), I let him use one hand to pour egg yolks out of a martini glass and into the mixing bowl (right). Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, nothing broke. Amazeballs proceeded in style.


Julia Child’s sponge cake recipe first asks us to beat egg yolks and white sugar together for several minutes. Then vanilla is added, and it all becomes a lovely, lemony color.  So far, so good – I think that Gladys would approve!


Julia’s recipe doesn’t call for baking powder.  Instead, it gets its magical lightness from the careful whipping and folding of egg whites, which looks pretty gross while it’s happening.


Eventually, the sponge cake gets baked, then cooled on a rack.  If your cake turns out a little raggedy looking, like mine, then take a picture from farther away so that no one will know.  Also, the picture will look all glowy and meditative.  Or something.


Part 2: Balling

I don’t have photos of Part 2, because things got a little crazy at this point.  I split the cake into thirds, to experiment.  One third went into the freezer.  One third went into the fridge.  One third was supposed to remain at room temperature.  Instead, it got eaten.

I used a melon baller to get spherical, bite-sized sponge-cake pieces from the frozen and refrigerated cakes. (For the record, the refrigerated cake worked better, which was not what I anticipated.)  However, it didn’t yield as many balls as I had hoped, and I was running out of time.  Which brings me to the moment where I fell far short of Gladys’s bar:

I went to the grocery store and bought a frozen Sara Lee pound cake.  Oh, the shame. While this choice moves me further away from Gladys-level invention and much closer to Gladys’s parents’ level of cookery, I confess that it was easier (and oddly satisfying) to ball the pound cake with the melon baller.  When I make this again, I’ll do a scratch pound cake rather than a sponge.


Sara Lee pound cake on the left, from-scratch sponge cake on the right.

SaraLeeAnd then the melon baller snapped halfway through, so I had to resort to cutting the rest of the cake into squares.


Part 3: Dipping


Once you’ve got balls of cake ready for dipping, make your icing.  Mix together 4 c powdered sugar, 1/3 c cocoa, 1/2 c warm milk, and 2 tbsp melted butter.  You’ll also need shredded coconut, toothpicks, and a tray covered in wax paper.

(Note to coconut haters like my husband: this recipe still works fine if you decide to leave off the coconut… it’s just not amazeballs.)

ButterCocoaMilk2If you have a small sous chef handy, this part is fun.  Lots of pouring, mixing, and dipping, and no raw ingredients, so plenty of opportunities for licking fingers.



Using a toothpick, dip a cake ball in the icing, and then in the coconut.  Set aside on the wax paper, repeat.

After making a half dozen of these, I ate one and realized that immersing the cake ball in icing is overkill.  With a traditional lamington it works fine, because the square of cake is much bigger, but with these little spheres, full icing resulted in a mouthful of sugar.  Bleh.  Toothpicks2

Since the little mini-spheres were overwhelmed by full dunkage, I decided just to dip their tops in the icing and then the coconut.  This resulted in a better balance of flavors as well as, I think, a cuter bite-sized treat.


Back row: dunked and drenched. Front row: dipped and cute.

And there we have it: Amazeballs!  But would my invention pass muster with Gladys Gatsby, our celebrated sixth-grade connoisseur?

Well, I didn’t want to bother Gladys.  She was busy with the launch of her writing career!  So I took the amazeballs to my family’s 4th of July celebration, where they were a big hit.  I think that, in the end, Gladys would give this dish 3 stars: 3.5 for taste, minus 1 star for using store-bought pound cake to supplement, plus 1/2 star for determination to see it through.

Bon appetit!

(p.s. For more recipes, check out Tara’s blog, where she’s been posting all kinds of yummies inspired by Gladys’s cooking and eating adventures in ALL FOUR STARS!)

Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.

And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Promotion

Cooking Calamities


None of us went here.

The launch celebration for ALL FOUR STARS continues, and nothing says “celebrate” like a few good cooking calamities!

In Tara Dairman’s delightful story, 12-year-old Gladys Gatsby knows her way around a kitchen. But even Gladys has the occasional slip-up. Could anything be worse than the unfortunate blowtorch incident?

Several EMUs have been gracious enough to share their own cooking disasters with us. Judge for yourselves, dear readers, if any of our stories stack up.


Gladys, unruffled by crisis

Lindsey Lane:

You think Gladys’s lighting kitchen curtains on fire was bad? This disaster involved trying to drain the pasta while talking on the phone. Pot slipped out of my hands. Scalding water everywhere. Burned leg. No pasta for dinner. The cellphone was fine. Take out was ordered.


Penny Parker Klostermann:

fried rattlesnake

But they do look like chicken wings.

I wasn’t the cook for my cooking disaster, so maybe it’s more of an eating disaster. About twenty years ago (yes this has stuck in my mind) a group of us decided to attend the largest rattlesnake round-up in the US in nearby Sweetwater, Texas. You’ve probably already guessed what I ate. And let me tell you…rattlesnakes don’t look like chickens, they don’t sound like chickens, they don’t move like chickens, AND THEY DON’T TASTE LIKE CHICKEN! They taste like rattlesnake…and that’s disastrous! Yech!

Laurie Ann Thompson:


You had me at “Broccoli cheese taffy.”

When I met Bernie, we were both working in south Florida on an internship. Our friendship gradually grew into something more, and (finally!) he asked me out on our first real date. He invited me to his apartment for dinner, and he decided to make broccoli cheese soup from scratch, which he’d never tried to do before. It turned into something resembling broccoli cheese taffy, and I couldn’t stop laughing! We ended up sharing an apple, the only other food he had in the house. Three years later I married him, and he still cooks for me almost every night… usually with much more edible results!

Jenn Bertman:


Please don’t feed (or slake) the authors.

It was a summer evening: sunset, Jack Johnson tunes, a glass of wine, making fish tacos. I fry the tortillas into shells, so I had just turned the heat on the oil-filled pan when my husband started talking about rearranging our furniture. I poured a second glass of wine (did I mention I rarely drink alcohol?), and soon enough I was on a buzz-fueled furniture arranging mission. Shortly after the second couch configuration, we noticed the flames shooting up from the stove. The relaxing summer evening vibe became a frantic frenzy of my husband and I slapping at the fire with a dish towel, digging for the extinguisher, shouting about whether to throw baking soda or baking powder on it, until finally my husband dropped a lid on the pan and snuffed out the flames. The lesson to learn here, kids, is: “Don’t drink and fry.”

Laurie Crompton:


Next, we’ll grill some Twizzlers.

As a teen I decided to improve on the classic M & M cookie recipe by using Skittles in place of M & Ms. After all, everything’s better with a little taste of rainbow, right? Erm, no. Apparently when those tasty bits of fruit-flavored magic reach a temperature of 350 degrees they melt. And once melted they infuse liquid candy that gives cookies the power to bend spatulas in half. Literally. Several ruined baking utensils later, I packaged up the (admittedly very pretty) cookies and mailed them to a long-distance friend. I figured he would assume the cookies had hardened along the way, although I never did hear from him again.

Tamara Smith:

Knees knocking, arms full with a bag of ice cream, raspberries, sugar, butter, and pie crust dough that I had just spent an hour making at my apartment…I walked into my boyfriend’s kitchen, ready to make him a raspberry pie for his birthday. The very first birthday I had spent with him. No pressure. Nah. Except I wanted the pie to be perfect. I got to it. Washed the table, spread flour, began to roll out the dough. Gorgeous, thick, buttery dough.

“What are those?” asked my boyfriend over my shoulder.

“Hmmmm?” I asked as I pushed the rolling pin.

“Those white bits?  They look like rice?  There–”  He pointed to the dough.

“Those?” I asked.  I hadn’t seen them until now.  I paused.  Broke off a piece of the dough and looked closely at it.  “Oh those…” My heart began to beat fast.  “Those are…”  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  “Those are…maggots!”

How had that happened?  How could that happen?  What would happen now?

My boyfriend laughed.  He hugged me.  Soon, I was laughing too.  Hard.  What else was there to do?

One more thing.  Celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday…with ice cream and raspberries.

Jeanne Ryan:


Poulet de bottes mouillées

Since “cooking” and “disaster” have often proved interchangeable in my culinary experience, I try to avoid both. However, one day, buoyed by the freedom of no deadlines, I decided to roast a chicken. Only minutes after pre-heating the oven, a foul, rubbery stench filled the kitchen. Apparently, the rarity of my cooking led someone to believe they could dry their hiking boots in the oven. See, I don’t even need to touch food for disaster to occur.

Megan Morrison:

Nobody in my family will let me forget the blueberry burgers, even though I was pregnant. I was trying to be healthy, so I assembled a recipe out of Fit Pregnancy and brought the result to a family party. Everyone expected to bite into delicious, greasy burgers; instead, they found their mouths full of a sinister fruit-meat cocktail. They have never forgiven me.

Jeannie Mobley:


Later that night, this baby became a Transformer.

One of the first meals I cooked for my fiancé from scratch was my mom’s famous and delicious homemade spaghetti sauce recipe. The recipe calls for you to layer meat and garlic and tie the stack together with string, then slow cook it in the sauce. I didn’t have string, so I rubber banded them together. Then I simmered them in the sauce for four hours before serving up something that took me all day to make and looked absolutely perfect. And tasted like boiled rubber. Depending on how you look at it, that meal may or may not have been worthy of a Michelin Star.

Donna Bowman Bratton:

Picture this: It was was a dark and stormy night… Seriously, it was! When I was about ten years old, my family temporarily lived in a mobile home near the construction site that would become our ranch house. On this particular night, my father was out of town, and our community was under a tornado watch. Of course! My mother, brother, and I tried to act like nothing was wrong. Mom was preparing a hot dog feast. Pork-n-beans were simmering on the stove. Suddenly, the lights went out. Somebody fumbled to light a candle, causing eerie shadows to haunt the walls while the mobile home rattled, and creaked, and threatened to careen to somewhere over the distant rainbow. I’m not certain of the events that followed except that one of us dished up a bowl of beans, one of us had the bright idea to tell a scary story, and lighting decided to strike nearby at the precise moment of the story’s terrifying climax. All I know is there was a scream, a flailing of hands, and a bowl of beans on the ceiling. And that, my friends, is why I don’t write horror and I cringe whenever I see pork-n-beans.

So, what’s your best (worst?) cooking calamity? Share with us in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of ALL FOUR STARS!

And remember, you can get your own copy from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Writing and Life

Interview with ALL FOUR STARS cover artist, Kelly Murphy

Yesterday you got to meet Gladys, and today we bring you the illustrator who brought Gladys to life on the ALL FOUR STARS cover. Please welcome cover artist and illustrator Kelly Murphy!

Kelly Murphy

LAT: Thanks so much for joining us this week to celebrate the ALL FOUR STARS launch, Kelly! Can you tell us what the process was like to get it there?

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 1KM: Book covers are some of my favorite illustration projects. It’s that one image that you have to create to entice an audience but be careful not to reveal too much. It’s being able to visualize the voice of the author, creating an important balance between narrative and emotion.

LAT: What do you consider when deciding whether or not to take on a project?

KM: Honestly? TIME. Can I finish this on time. That’s always my number one question. Juggling a few books, teaching, and trying to sustain a remotely healthy sleeping schedule can be pretty tricky. Secondly, I really listen to the editor’s synopsis, and the overall mood they’re looking for. There’s a reason why they came knocking on my door, and I love to hear how the editor made the connection between my artwork and the novel. I had heard about this novel a month or so before it came into my inbox. I was speaking at 2013’s Whispering Pines winter retreat in Southern Rhode Island, where I met with Shauna Rossaro. She hinted that she thought my sense of color and character would be perfect for a foodie middle grade novel. My eyes widened and kept my fingers crossed. I consider myself a rather reclusive illustrator, therefore it’s very rare to meet in person with editors and art directors. So, not only was I very flattered, it was one of the first instances of productive face to face networking for me! I hope my eagerness didn’t scare Shauna too much! And a few months later, I received that happy email!

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 4LAT: I can totally relate to the reclusive networker thing, and I’m so glad you didn’t scare her off! What did you think when you first saw the ALL FOUR STARS manuscript?

KM: ALL FOUR STARS really hones in on the spunk and passion that young minds have. Gladys has this “never say die” approach to the problems set in front of her, and she knows what she really wants. It was great to be able to bring that character into visualization. While a lot of my work typically has a period feel to it, I was excited to work on a contemporary middle grade novel.

LAT: It sounds like you really “get” Gladys. Do you usually read the whole manuscript for a project, or just a synopsis?

KM: Whenever I can, I read the whole manuscript. To really understand and then draw the characters I need to know all of the subtleties. I love imagining the whole world around them. Often I will draw them in their favorite place or bedroom, even if it isn’t described.

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 3LAT: That makes me even more curious! What were the first images/ideas you had? How many initial designs did you propose? How did those get refined over time into the final product?

KM: Gladys has an extremely active mind, and I knew I wanted to have the composition reflect that. My first ideas were of her surrounded by all of the pastries in the story. I was toying with the idea of having the cover framed, particularly by a window. I felt as though not only was it a good compositional device, but it could also reflect Gladys’ struggle to achieve her goals. In essence, stop window shopping and finally walk into the restaurant. I typically like to sketch up to three or four ideas. For ALL FOUR STARS, the ideas were similar, but just presented in a different manner.

LAT: There are so many fun details in the ALL FOUR STARS cover. I keep noticing new things every time I see it. Can you give us any insight into your thinking about some of those specifics: Gladys’ striped shirt, for example, or the swirl that she is sitting on, or the jello molds on the table? How did you make those decisions?

KM: Tara did such an amazing job bringing Gladys to life. I love writers who weave small details about the character throughout the whole book. Most of the details were mentioned throughout the text. Some details are taken from my fascination with French patisseries and all of their delights. It made perfect sense to then subtly invite art nouveau lines and curves to frame Gladys.

ALL FOUR STARS sketch 2LAT: Oh, I love that! What’s your favorite thing about the ALL FOUR STARS cover? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tweak?

KM: I really enjoyed painting the fine details, and working with such a bold color palette. I always wish I had more time to tinker and perfect, but if I dwell too long on what could have or should have done, I may never move on to the next painting!

LAT: I wouldn’t change a thing. I think you nailed it! How was ALL FOUR STARS different from your other cover work, either in your own creative process or in terms of production? Were there any surprises, funny anecdotes, or unusual challenges or frustrations?

KM: Initially, the cover was approved and painted with a confining border, and the text broken in different blocks. Ultimately, each word in the title did become too segmented and did not unify together nicely. It was a good idea to change and manipulate the border to let the whole composition breathe a bit. Overall, it changed the dominant color to a much more pleasing and appropriate butter color.


LAT: Wow, that’s fascinating! What are you working on next? 

KM: I’m already working away on the companion to ALL FOUR STARS! I’ll be finishing up the painting this week!

LAT: I’ll be looking forward to reading it… AND seeing the cover! Thanks again, Kelly. It’s been such a treat to hear the “inside story” behind a absolutely fabulous book cover!

Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!



Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Illustrators, Interviews

Gladys Gatsby Goes Out


All Four Stars is available now! Read on to find out how to win a signed copy.

In honor of the launch of Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars, Gladys has been dining out with various authors across the United States this week. Here’s what she has to say about that.




Stopped by a nearby Mellow Mushroom (https://mellowmushroom.com) with local dragon torturer Joshua McCune to try out their Holy Shiitake Pie. Holy Shiitake! This olive oil based pie drizzled with garlic aioli and loaded with a multitude of mushrooms (shiitake, portobello, and button) will expand your belly and make you drool for more.

Four stars!

Try it with avocados for a super creamy treat that hits all the right spots.

2014-07-04-21-33-24_decoAlso sampled (and highly recommended): garlic butter and Parmesan pretzels (with a side of beer cheese) and a Hot Mama (must be 21… Mr. McCune assures me of its blood orange deliciousness).

Gladys traveled out to visit Amy Finnegan for the Fourth of July.



Fancy food can be delicious, but it has no business being on a Fourth of July menu! That’s when it’s time for an all-American BBQ! These pulled pork sandwiches—paired with some smoky baked beans, fluffy Jell-o salad, and some deliciously-salty potato chips—can sure set off some fireworks on a warm summer evening.


Then she was off to spend some time with Lindsey Lane.

gladys recipeWow. I think my even my parents could make this dessert. Smokey Peaches. Super simple. The main ingredient is ripe fresh peaches. Not canned. Not the hard baseball variety in the winter. Peel and slice in a bowl. Add a couple of scoops of raspberry chipotle jam and mix it around. Let it sit while you eat dinner. Serve with a bit of ice cream. Yum.

More dessert was served up by Penny Parker Klostermann.

Gladys and Banana Pudding

Diners are sure to go ape over Bubba’s Banana Pudding. Perfectly ripened bananas are blanketed with a dreamy, creamy pudding, then topped with crunchy cookies for a combination that is sure to please.

And by Jeanne Ryan.

Reviewing the Warm Callebaut Chocolate Brownie at 50 North restaurant, Seattle

Gladys - Brownie
Here’s a dessert where all the parts were made for each other, like a warm day in a cozy hammock with a great book. This brownie is a molten chocolate delight served warm with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. The combination melts into a swirl of sweet and salty deliciousness on your tongue. I give it four stars–that have ALIGNED.

Megan Morrison even reported that Gladys  reviewed the airline food while enroute.

20140708_093332Gladys thoughtfully tasted every element of the Hawaiian Airlines complimentary fruit plate, then whipped out her notebook and pen to pass judgment. The fruit was inconsistent – some bites firm, sweet, and ripe, others mealy and bland. The cheese was flavorful but a bit rubbery from waiting around in a plastic sleeve. The crackers were fine. For complimentary airline fare, this was a tolerable plate, and the chocolate-covered macadamia nut provided a real high point, so the final score is 2.5 stars.

And because an intrepid food reviewer goes wherever she has to go to sample and review, Gladys even went to Scout camp with Donna Bowman Bratton.

IMG_6565Gladys went to Boy Scout camp in Arkansas last week to see what kind of food is prepared deep in the woods. For some odd reason, my son and his scout friends didn’t invite Gladys to “eat” with them in the dining hall. Go figure! Gladys concentrated on the delectables created for the Scoutmaster cook-off. Our scoutmaster whipped together a sweet, buttery, fruity desert.


Gladys was both amazed and a tad bit frightened by the unique cooking methods used by Boy Scouts. Alan (that’s our scoutmaster’s name) mixed and layered just the right ingredients into a classic dutch oven. Once arranged, the dutch oven was placed into a hot campfire and covered with white-hot coals. There it cooked for 45 minutes. After very carefully removing the dutch oven from the heat, our contest entry, blueppleberry cobbler, was ready for competition.


Gladys wasn’t an official judge, but that didn’t stop her from taste-testing all of the entrees and deserts vying to win the golden apron.  In the end, Gladys agreed that our blueppleberry cobbler had a perfectly caramelized crust that hinted of butter and smoke, and a sweet and fruity filling that harkened memories of holiday pies and fresh air. A real winner! So many eager eaters scooped heaping spoonfuls of the the blueppleberry yumminess, Gladys almost missed having her picture taken with the finished product.  In the end, Gladys declared that blueppleberry cobbler was a four-star, camp-worthy winner, especially when matched with homemade ice cream.

For more reviews by Gladys and a funny, wonderful story, pick up a copy of All Four Stars. Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a signed copy.

ALL FOUR STARS coverFor more information about this book visit http://taradairman.com/


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch


Good morning! Allow me to (re)introduce myself. I am Jeannie Mobley, one of the founders of EMUs Debuts, and I write historical fiction. Which is why I have been invited to return with a guest post on this great, glorious, momentous day in history.

Yes, my friends. Today, July 14, is Bastille Day! Vive la France!

motto of the French revolution source:istockphoto permission:licensed

Yep. I’m here because  in 1789, on this very day 225 years ago, the French revolution began with the storming of the Bastille. A revolution that would culminate in overthrowing one of the great monarchies of Europe and see the king, and more notably (at least for my purposes here,) the queen guillotined in front of the populace.


Yeah, so. She had a little money. But how much cake could she really be eating with that waistline?

That queen was the beautiful and elegant Marie Antoinette. Beautiful and elegant on the outside, anyway, but so arrogant, and hard-hearted that when she was told that the peasants had no bread, she allegedly replied, “Let them eat cake.”

In truth, it’s unlikely that Marie Antoinette ever said this. The story comes originally from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiographical work Confessions, penned in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was a mere child and the storming of the Bastille was over twenty years away.

Which brings us (obviously) to the Literary History of Cake.

Because while I’ve been trying to educate you on French history, you’ve just been thinking about cake, haven’t you? About the tender sweetness of the layers and the buttery texture. About the chocolaty smoothness on your tongue, and the creamy, dreamy swirls of icing bursting with sugary delight across your tingling taste buds.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right.

The literary history of cake.

We might argue that the literary history of cake begins with that great visionary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and culminates, at least so far, on July 10, 2014 with the release of the





But Tara’s journey with Cake didn’t begin with her debut novel, just as Gladys Gatsby’s journey in ALL FOUR STARS didn’t begin with Cake. In fact, we first meet Gladys preparing a non-cake French dessert, Crème Brulee. I’m not going to give you the details. Suffice it to say, if the French monarchy had had Gladys and her blow torch 125 years ago today, things might have turned out very differently. Vive la France! indeed.

Gladys’s journey takes us through hilarious and astounding feats of cookery, despite her parents demands that she stay out of the kitchen, and on to her accidental assignment reviewing a top New York dessert bakery for a New York newspaper. It culminates not only with cake, but with  mouth-watering moments of literary goodness you won’t want to miss.

Desserts only

As for Tara, her journey has included some hilarious encounters with cake as well. Apparently, she has had a long fascination with cake in literature, claiming Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a favorite book, and the cake-eating-torture within it a favorite scene. Tara’s obsession with cake literature has even led her to reenact this scene. On video. On this very blog!


And she thought when I left the blog she could stop being haunted by this picture.

It’s sad, really, where the literary history of cake takes us, isn’t it?

No. No, it isn’t.

Because it takes us, in the end, to THIS FABULOUS WEEK in which EMU’s Debuts is celebrating the release of Tara’s delicious first novel, ALL FOUR STARS (which went by the working title Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake for a time. Just in case I haven’t mentioned cake enough in this post.)

Congratulations, Tara. Because nothing is sweeter, or bursts more gloriously upon us, than a debut novel. And this one is sweet indeed.

So stick with us all week to celebrate ALL FOUR STARS.

Raise a slice of cake in honor of the event!  Then wipe off those sticky fingers of yours and crack open a copy!  You’ll find yourself cheering the whole time!

What’s that you say? You don’t have a copy?! Well, there are three things you can do about that:   buy one at your local bookstore, check one out at your local library, or LEAVE US A COMMENT THIS WEEK FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF YOUR VERY OWN!!!!!

FourstarsVive la Gladys Gatsby!

FourstarsVive la Cake!




Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Guest Posts, Launch, Uncategorized

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 taradairman.com, 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 taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


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

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 taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


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