What’s Happening With the Monsters???

More School Visits & NCTE

This week I visited Holy Infant School in Ballwin, Mo and shared writing tips with the 5th & 6th grade students. They enjoyed listening to a clip of INTO THE SHADOWLANDS as well, and they asked insightful questions about writing. Scary on!

Next I’m on the National Council of Teachers of English Conference at St. Louis where I’ll be enjoying hanging out with awesome teachers and authors. Plus, I’m teaming up with fellow authors, Vicki Erwin, Stephanie Bearce, and Jeanie Ransom for a presentation encouraging teachers to write as well!

N.07 – The Write Life: Authors Empowering Teachers to Find and Share Their Authentic Voice with Students Come join us if you can! My books will be available there at the Left Bank Books booth. Check it out!


Oftentimes When I Start Writing a Story…

There will be a good guy versus a bad guy. My fantasy FROM THE GRAVE seemed pretty straightforward in this respect with Frankenstein Frightface Gordon—a less-than-monsterly monster—as the good guy. Malcolm McNastee—a true blood troll on a mission to end misfits—seemed the obvious bad guy. But then, as I dug deep (please forgive the obvious cemetery allusion) into the story, my characters started revealing who they really are. Their quirks and shortcomings. Their fears and failings. And of course, I love them all the more for it.


Looking Deeper

While Frank maintains his good guy persona, he’s not without his numerous shortcomings. He has a quick temper that he’s tried to put under wraps, which sometimes causes him to be too cautious. He doesn’t initially lead the charge to stand up for exiled misfits. Rather he must be convinced by Georgina—a dragon without a trace of fire—and by his dear, departed granny—from the grave!


Malcolm, on the other claw, isn’t a totally tough creature. He has a big soft spot for his little sister, Nelly, who exhibits some disturbing misfit traits. Plus, Malcolm has his own secrets to hide—secrets that would destroy his perfectly gruesome image. One of Malcolm’s favorite sayings is “Less thinking and more monstering.” But that is not always easy to do. In fact, being a monster is far from easy but wonderfully entertaining, as I hope you’ll discover in FROM THE GRAVE coming October 18 from Jolly Fish Press.


 More Monsters!from-the-grave

For more information on creating characters and details on FROM THE GRAVE, visit these What’s New blog posts:

Monster Writing Prompts: Creating Characters

1/29 Friends

1/21 Family

1/17 Appearance

1/8 Likes & Dislikes

Monster Writing Prompts: Part 3

Creating CHARACTERS: Family


In FROM THE GRAVE, monster families care for each other. How does a writer create characters readers care about?


In FROM THE GRAVE, the main character, Frankenstein Frightface Gordon, has a rather typical family, very comparable to a human family. A mom, a dad, and an older brother who likes to torment him. His dad and brother, unlike Frank, are green and gruesome—just as Frankensteins should be. His dad works at the Haunted House Factory. His brother Ghoulbert, is rather slow at school but excels at mischief. Frank’s mom is a classic monster as well—a shrieking siren, floating here and there and everywhere. Poor Frank, with his pale blue skin and neatnik ways is the only oddbat in the family.

Does your main character (protagonist) have a family? What are they like? How does your protagonist fit in—or not? Supporting characters (the semi-important characters like family & friends) can have a big impact on the protagonist. They can be fun and interesting foils –characters that contrast another character, highlighting the differences. Make sure you know your characters well. Then when you write your story, you’ll make them come alive (or as alive as a zombie can be) for your reader too!

A good way to find out everything you need to know about your character is to create a Character Chart. Here’s an example below.

  1. NAME
  2. AGE
  8. FEARS
  9. GOALS

Does your monster have a mummy–or daddy???        


Pitch Wars Mentee Bio


I’ve decided to participate in Brenda Drake’s PITCH WARS contest, which is ramping into action even as I type. The contest allows mentees to submit a work for consideration by numerous literary mentors (MG-Adult). If a mentee wins a mentor with his/her fabulous entry, then the two will collaborate on the manuscript, polishing it to perfection with the hope of garnering favor with an agent during the second round. I love the idea of working with a talented writer and bringing new life to my story. This year the mentors have requested some bio info on perspective mentees, so here is mine.

DSC03252  Writer-in-trainingJr. Hi Picture_adobe

I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t reading or writing (as depicted above by a local grade school artist. Yes, that’s me on the right in middle school.) So in pursuit of all things literary, I majored in English Lit in undergraduate school and then earned a Masters in Library Science. We moved fairly often, so I’ve shared my love of books with students in numerous states in both school and public libraries where I’ve worked.

Writer BOOK


For the past 10 years or so, I’ve actively pursued my writing career. I’m a member of SCBWI and ALA. I try to attend as many writers’ conferences and classes as possible. I belong to a couple of critique groups and continue to learn the craft. Some of my short stories and poems have been published in children’s magazines, like HIGHLIGHTS and LADYBUG. I’ve won the SCBWI Missouri Mentorship and a few other regional awards, earning spots in anthologies. Earlier this year, I signed a two-book deal with Jolly Fish Press for my MONSTER OR DIE series.

FROM THE GRAVE is slated for publication in Fall of 2016.from-the-grave



I like to make magic with words.

I love writers like

Kate DiCamillo


Louis Sacharabracadabra_jean_maurice_

Ransom Riggs

Cornelia Funke

Richard Peck

Jonathan Stroud….the list could go on and on.



I try to flex my writerly muscles, taking on new challenges and improving my technique.


I’m creative and love the language of words, priding myself on creating musical prose.





I’m an attention-to-detail person and open to revision. I know that good writing can become even better.


danceBOOKI love to write stories that appeal to

reluctant readers, especially boys. What can I say, I was sandwiched between two brothers growing up. I had two sons of my own and now two grandsons.

20150319_105951I like action, adventure, silliness, laugh-out-loud humor, magic, and spooky stuff. I want readers to finish my book and ask the librarian, “Do you have another one like that?”



Thanks, Mentors, for volunteering and your pay-it-forward attitude!

Hats off to everyone entering!

39 Years

Conflict and Tension

Today we had a break from the cold winter temps, so my dog Holly and I enjoyed a long walk.
But we’d barely made it back inside, when it started pouring rain.

Now if I’d been writing a story, this would have been much too easy a course for my characters. They took a nice walk and escaped the drenching rain without batting an eye. Absolutely no TENSION or CONFLICT.

In a real story, poor Holly and I would have been bent over double, battling the high winds. The thunder would have rumbled around us, lightening sparked. And of course, we would have scrambled and scraped to make it back in time–only to have been walloped with a downpour mere steps from safety.

A good story needs plenty of TENSION and CONFLICT. Here’s some examples in books I’ve been reading:

DIRTY GERT by Tedd Arnold. A young child adores dirt, so much so that she finally starts to sprout.

THE DARK by Lemony Snicket. A young boy is terribly scared of the dark, and one night it invites him into the basement.

FOG ISLAND by Tomi Ungerer. A boy and girl become lost in their boat during the fog. When they land on Fog Island, they climb the slippery stairs and meet an enchanted wizard.

Can you find examples of TENSION and CONFLICT in one of your favorite stories?
Can you write a story filled with TENSION and CONFLICT?

I think it’s quite fun to amp up wattage in a story. Give it a try. It’s nice for your characters to arrive eventually at a happy ending–but don’t make it too easy for them.

Holiday Poetry

A fun way to celebrate the holiday season for children of all ages is to create poetry. The poetry could be part of a Christmas card greeting, or a decoration to hang on the tree, or just a celebration of the winter season.

For young children, the poem can be a simple free verse phrase or two.
For older children, rhyme and rhythm can be incorporated.
For all, the choice of subjects abounds from wintery scenes, to well-known Christmas themes, or  even end of year reminiscing.

A simple poem exploring a winter scene is Winter Treats, found on my website. Use this poem to encourage children to look outside and describe a scene they see. Can they bring the scene to life with their words?

An example of a Santa poem at Essential Learning Products is Hip! Hip! Hooray! by Beverly McLoughland. This poem could be used with children to jump start their poetry writing. It also could be used as a geography lesson, traveling the globe with Santa.

For a more spiritual poem, read Christmas Day, also found on my website. Have the child find a Christmas card picture or perhaps an ornament that he likes. Then have the child use this image to create a poem in rhyme, free verse, or haiku.

Poetry should be a fun and creative process. There are no rights or wrongs–only writes!

Picture Adventure

Summer is already over for many students, but there is still time to enjoy the August HIGHLIGHTS Hidden Picture

This beachy scene will help children enjoy the sand, surf, and sun for perhaps one last time this year. What a great way to help expand your child’s vocabulary and reading skills, along with puzzle-solving practice.

Some suggestions for using the Hidden Picture:

For younger students
–look for the pictures that have “b” in them; or “s” or “p”, etc.
–have child write out each picture word he finds in the puzzle
–count the seashells in the picture
–discuss what is happening in the picture
–can the child explain how to build a sand castle?

For older students

–alphabetize all the hidden picture words
–have the child select 1-3 of the words and use them in a story
–have the child write the directions for building a sand castle
–have the child give the pictured children names and create a story about them
–can the child draw her own illustration with one or more hidden pictures?

Character Talk

If you, or someone you know, is looking for a summer activity, why not try writing a story. When I visit schools, I’m always amazed at the students’ creativity. They invent some of the most fun, unusual, and truly interesting characters. I just help them along a bit with some suggestions.

How can you get started with a story? One good way is to get to know your main character. Take a peek at these pages on my website to help you.

Character Description
A girl
A boy

When you flesh out your character, more than likely you’ll discover what her problem is. You’ll know which characters will help and which will stand in her way.

The biggest improvement needed in the student stories I review is usually dialog. Too often students’ stories have little or no dialog, yet dialog is one of the easiest (and I think) most fun ways to reveal the characters in your story. Here is an example of boring dialog:

“Hi! How are you?”
“Fine. How are you?”
“Ok, I guess.”

This is chit-chat. Readers want more than chit-chat. They want interesting, quirky, humorous, adventurous, tension-filled dialog to emphasize what’s happening in the story. Dialog which shows how the characters react.

Here is a better example of dialog:

“Come over quick,” cried Angela into the phone. “Mosby has escaped again. I don’t know how long he’s been free.”
“Not again,” said Ginger with a huff. “I thought you fixed the holes in the fence.”
“I thought I did too, but he must have found a new way out.”
“He’s a dachshund magician,” said Ginger with a sigh. “Ok, I’ll come help…again.”
“Hurry! We’ll need to scout the neighborhood. He’s so little. A car will never be able to see him until it’s too late.” Angela jammed the phone in her pocket and shot out the front door.

Just from this short conversation what did we discover about Angela?
*She has a dog–a dachshund–who escapes quite often from her backyard.
*She sounds like she is very concerned about him getting hurt.
*She’s enlisting the help of her friend, Ginger, who has helped her numerous times in the past.

What do we know about Ginger?
*Although she’s Angela’s friend/neighbor, she’s not exactly eager to help find the lost dog.
*Even though she seems a bit upset at Angela for letting her dog escape again, she does agree to come help. We assume she must be a pretty reliable friend.
*She sees a bit of humor in the situation, when she calls the dog a “magician.”

Now suppose Angela and Ginger encounter the boy character from the character studies as they search for Mosby.

*How will he react to them? You should know if you’ve fleshed out his character.
*What is his name?
*How will he talk?
*Will he be helpful or rude?
*What secrets does he have?
* Will his secrets impact Angela or Ginger or even Mosby?

Give it a try. Then you can finish the dialog below:

“Hey,” yelled Angela. She waved her arm at a lanky boy ahead. He was walking a pudgy brown dog. “Have you seen a miniature dachshund?”

Fun and Games and Writing

Let’s have some fun today. Do you like to play memory games?

How about matching up cards or answering game questions?
HIGHLIGHTS has a colorful memory game online this month–Memory Lanes.
I plan to go back and play the game again and try to beat my score. I didn’t have as good a memory as I thought. 🙂
Exploring your memory is a great way to create details for stories.
Pretend you wanted to set your story in your house.
  • What color is your front door?
  • What material is the floor in your living room? What sound do you make walking across it?
  • How would you describe the view out your bedroom window?
  • What do you hear when you open the window?
  • What do you smell cooking when you walk into the kitchen?
  • Is it warm or cold when you step outside?

I hope you enjoy challenging your memory today.

More Bird Stories

Normally when I think of winter birds, I picture cardinals and blue jays and sparrows. But what about seabirds–like the gulls and pelicans and terns. They hang out at the beaches even when the temperature drops.

What do these birds like to eat?
What do they sound like?
Where do they build their nests?
FEEDING THE GULLS by Deanna Calvert might be a fun to read.
Or A DAY AT SEAGULL BEACH by Karen Wallace.
Or SEEING SEABIRDS by Allan Fowler.
Did you know Herring Gulls will eat most anything? They are the ones who will steal your snacks at the beach if you’re not careful.
Could you write a story about a gull who ate too much junk food at the beach and couldn’t fly?
One day when it’s too cold to go outside this winter, pretend you’re the snack-loving gull and write about your misadventures.