Monday, April 27, 2009


While I was in Florida a few weeks ago, Natalie came up and handed me a book report she had written about THE SACRIFICE and which I have loaded here to reward her for doing what every kids considers a tedious project. (And Natalie I apologize about the small print - it was the biggest my blog would allow)

Reading her book report, I was reminded of all the ones I had to do when I was in school. Now, I didn't mind reading the book - reading was always the best part about having to do a book report. But the book report itself - AAARGH!!!!! Why did I have to spell it out for someone else why a book was good or bad? Come on!!! Just read the book yourself! It was like doing those stupid Geometry proofs. If a million other people had already proved it, I couldn't grasp why I had to go and prove it again!

But as I reflected on those pesky assignments, I realized that by having to put into words just what I may have liked or disliked about a book, I was honing my own writing skills. WHAT??????

It's true. In writing a book report, you are actually judging what you like and don't like in the writing itself. Take for example a book you read that you loved up until the very end, and then you felt it lost itself. Do you really think that a few months later, you would write a story or a book that had that same kind of ending? Of course not!!!! Or how about a book whose character you just couldn't relate to? By reading and critiquing the work, aren't you discovering how you would like to create your own characters?

Conversely, there are those books you loved. What did you love most about it? In making that decision and in analyzing what made you swoon when you read the book, you are setting rules and making decisions about how you want to evolve as a writer yourself.

So don't groan when you have to write a book report. See it as an exercise in telling your conscious and more importantly, your sub-conscious how you as a writer want your own work to read! Pick the book to pieces! It will make you and your own stories just that much stronger.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I am always surprised when I visit schools that students think I have all the answers. But I will let you in on a little secret - authors are regular people! We do our laundry and pay our bills. We wake up one morning full of energy, and the next morning, we can barely open one eye. But if you are still interested in meeting an author and finding out what they may know about writing that you don't, here are some creative ways to go about doing just that!

1. FIND THEM ON FACEBOOK - There are tons of authors on facebook. Try "friending" them. Authors love to post - since we are alone in our offices all day. When we get stuck, we frequently turn to facebook to connect with others. Ask them questions on their wall. I bet they'll answer!

2. FOLLOW THEIR BLOG - You may not want to read all the stuff they write on their blogs, but some authors actually write some interesting tidbits about writing. Most think they are advising adult authors - but any advice given to an adult writer is bound to be helpful to those of you who are just learning the process.

3. START A BOOK CLUB AT YOUR SCHOOL - How in the world is this going to help? Well, a lot of times, authors will visit book clubs - especially if you have bought their book. You may not get JK Rowling to stop by, but then I don't really know JK Rowling and maybe she would think it was cool. I would start with some local authors who have written just a few books. Send an email through their website and see what they have to say. It is certainly worth a shot and you will have a lot of fun reading and sharing great books if nothing else comes of it.

4. START AN AFTER-SCHOOL CRITIQUE GROUP AT YOUR SCHOOL AND INVITE AN AUTHOR TO BE YOUR MENTOR - This would work best with a local author. Again, email them from their website, gather a group of kids who are serious writers and propose a once a month meeting, where you would read your work aloud and the writer would critique it. Each year, change writers - that way you can get lots of different perspectives. (And remember to buy the writers' books! That will help convince him/her)

So whether you want to get to know a writer close to home or far-away, there are ways to reach out. Go ahead, don't be afraid. Remember - we all pull on our pants the same way!

Monday, April 13, 2009


I receive a lot of letters from kids who have read THE SACRIFICE. And over and over, I am asked the same thing, "What happened to Mama?" The answer lies in the Author's Section of the book. But because so many students want to know what happened to Abby, too, I have decided to resurrect her and do an interview. So for all you wondering readers out there, here goes:

Abby, it is nice to have you back here for a discussion of what happened to you and your family after that terrible period in 1692.

It's nice to be here in 2009 where witches are things no one believes in anymore, although I have heard that there is an increase in vampire obsession, which scares me.

In books only, Abby. Don't worry. But now, our readers are really curious. What happened to Mama after you saw her taken off to jail?

Of course, we were so worried about her. I knew how bad the conditions were and she wasn't that strong physically because she was carrying a baby. But somehow she managed to survive until her trial. Both Dorothy and I visited the prison often, taking food and warm blankets.

So what happened at her trial? Did she blame someone else as you and Dorothy did?

I have to say that I have never been more proud of Mama as I was that day. She stood in front of those judges and would not accuse anyone nor would she admit any guilt. Eveyone said she was a true lady. But alas, it wasn't enough. They found her guilty!

Don't tell me they hung her that day?

No. They agreed to wait until she had delivered my brother or sister.

Oh dear. And then did they hang her?

Well, we were all sure it was going to happen. The moments we saw Mama at the prison were horrible. And then, thankfully, and at the very last moment, the governor declared the witch trials invalid and the whole thing ended. Luckily, Mama escaped hanging. But so many others did not.

Do you remember the day Mama came home?

How could I forget? At last, we were safe and a family again. But we had lost Aunt Elizabeth, and I think we all realized then how short life can be and how fragile.
Mama made sure we celebrated all of life's good times after that. When we were together just laughing and talking, these were her favorite times. Mine, too.

And the baby Mama was carrying?

Oh, my brother Ammi Ruhamah.

That's an unusual name.

It means "My people have obtained mercy."
Mama chose it to remind herself that Ammi saved her.

My readers want to know what happened to you later?

(laughs) Oh, I grew up and met a wonderful man named Thomas Lamson. We moved to Ipswich where I had six children, four daughters and two sons. I named them Abigail, Thomas, Paul, Martha, Sarah and Elizabeth. They were quite a handful at times, very determined and willing to bend the rules. I don't know where they got that behavior from. (laughs again)

And Mama?

Mama was eventually pardoned and had her guilty verdict removed from the court records. She lived to be 78, a feisty old lady, who spoke up whenever she got the chance.

And Papa?

He lived until he was 81. For years, his demons plagued him, and I don't think the witch trials helped. But in his latter years, he calmed a great deal and his fears seemed to lessen. Fear can be helpful if it allows you to escape harm. But fear can also be so destructive, if one gives into it without reason.

Well Abigail, thanks for stopping by. Until next book . . .

Are you going to write another book about me? I'd like that!

We shall see, Abby. We shall see.

That ends my interview with my great-grandmother Abigail Faulkner. But what lesson is in there for you young writers? The lesson is this: Writers always know more about their characters than they may reveal in a book. So take the time to develop your characters before you launch into the writing process. I guarantee you, your book will be better because of it!

Friday, April 3, 2009

JEEPERS, CREEPERS, DID YOU HEAR THOSE PEEPERS? So today, I am starting with a youtube video that you should listen to. (There is no video footage, just sound). If you are not from the northeast, you are probably going to wonder what the heck you are listening to. The noise on this video is made by baby frogs - commonly called peepers around these parts. And they are the first signs of spring we residents outside of Boston get (mainly because there is still snow on our lawns).

I love this sound! For me, it means spring is on its way and summer is not too far behind - days of reading, drinking iced tea and lemonade (one of my favorite drinks), jumping into an ice cold pool and throwing open my windows once more.

But as I was sitting outside in my hot tub last night and listening to these little guys singing their hearts out, I thought about how I had spent my day - at the State House - seeing the students who had won the MSLA bookmark contests, receive their awards. And I realized that in some ways, all new, young writers and illustrators are peepers. Like these little guys,
(seen here), you are all trying to have your voices heard, to be recognized for your talents.

So what lesson can these peppers give you?

The interesting thing is that while these peppers sing like this at night, they go still during the day. But if you listen very closely during the quiet of the afternoon, you will hear one or two who are still singing.

It's easy when the sun rises over the hilltop, exposing you to the dangers of the world, to go quiet. But the little peppers who keep on singing their song are just not able to do that. In spite of the fact that predators may take more notice of them, that they are putting themselves out there, they keep singing.

So, too, must you as young artists and writers keep persisting. It's easy when your day is over or summer is upon you, to put down the pen or brush. But it is the writer and the artist who is not swept up with the crowds, who keeps on working, who prevails. Sure, like the little peppers, you are exposing yourself to the dreaded letters of rejection. And yet, like those baby frogs, the only way to stand out from the rest is to be the one willing to risk it all. So go on! Send your work out! Risk the rejection letter! And if you do receive the dreaded declination, try again and again and again!

Like those persistent little peppers, let your song fly out into the world. Do it enough times and there will be someone out there somewhere who will pause in the sunshine of a lovely afternoon and think to themselves, "What an amazingly beautiful song"!