The Ink Splat: Word Play

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author featured is Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol by Erin Dealy  along with an author interview! 

Writing Challenge: Word Play

Author Erin Dealy played with words in her new book Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol. A traditional Christmas song is transformed into a wacky parody. This month pick a Christmas song and create a new version by swapping, exchanging and playing with the words. We would love to hear your new songs! 

Submit your response here for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for? 

  Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol by Erin Dealy

(Sleeping Bear Press 2013/ illustrations Nick Ward), a picture book parody of the holiday carol, Deck the Halls, is a kid’s-eye view of a holiday gathering with the family. Erin Dealey has promised her cousins, nieces, and nephews this book is not about them. Except for the dog… Her sister will tell you differently. (Don’t believe her.) 

Deck the Walls by Erin Dealey

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la. How wonderful the old carol sounds. A vision of warm family gatherings peacefully celebrating the holiday season comes to mind. But wait, this doesn’t sound like a peaceful family get-together. What is happening here? Deck the walls with mashed potatoes! Fa la la la la la la la la. Make a snowman with tomatoes. Fa la la la la la la la la.

Author Erin Dealey has taken the old holiday classic and turned it on its head. In her riotous, raucous rendition of a family meal gone hilariously awry, you’ll find food hockey, vegetable sculptures, crashing dishes, and grown-ups wondering what has gone wrong. From “Feed the dog our peas and carrots” to “Food tastes better when you wear it,” readers young and old will never forget this new take on an old holiday carol! 


Kirkus: “Hilarious… ’Tis the season to be jolly, after all, and this rollicking parody neatly fits the bill.”

Horn Book: “This reworking of an old chestnut is fresh and funny.”

SLJ: “An engaging visual interpretation of the classic carol from a modern kid’s perspective…This over-the-top selection is well suited for storytime or one-on-one.”


An interview with author, Erin Dealy

Erin and Cat in the Hat

1. You have theater background. In Inklings classes we play theater games to explore our characters. Do you ever walk, talk, or act as your characters to get to know them a little better?

Theater rocks! I head the theater department of Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp each summer, and I’ve taught Theater classes for decades, in addition to directing high school theater, and acting in everything from a Children’s Theater Troupe, community theater, Shakespeare, Improvs, and on-camera work and film. I actually wrote DECK THE WALLS for my high school Theater students to sing at holiday assembly.  ; )

To me, every book begins like a play in my mind. I hear the dialog before I even know the setting. I listen to the characters and write down their story, almost as if I’m eavesdropping.  Because of my theater experience, I’ve learned how to get into the head of a character, just like I would a role I’m rehearsing. I think the key for writers–much like actors–is to put yourself in the character’s shoes and listen. Learn as much as you can about them, even if you don’t put it all in the story. This will teach you how they will react to different situations.  Then you plunk them down in those situations and “see” what they do.


2. Most of your books are illustrated. Do you draw? What challenges come with working with an illustrator?

I doodle, and I minored in Art in college, but I have yet to illustrate any of my books. Working with an illustrator isn’t challenging at all because I’ve never actually met any of them. With publishing houses like Sleeping Bear Press (DECK THE WALLS!) and Simon & Schuster (The publisher of GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX  and LITTLE BO PEEP CAN’T GET TO SLEEP), the editor matches you with an illustrator. You have no say in the matter at all. I always say it’s like sending your child to kindergarten–or college. You have to trust you’ve done the best you can and that the illustrator will love it and nurture it further. I’ve been really lucky because I love what the illustrators have brought to my books.


3. You like to play with words, which is clear in Deck the Walls. What do you do when you can’t find the right word or hit writer’s block?

Thanks! I love to play with words. It’s kind of  like theater improv games to me. And honestly, I rarely hit writer’s block (see the answer to #1) but if I need a break, I walk the dog or weed the garden–anything that gets me far away from the manuscript. It’s amazing how ideas flow when you step away and let your brain have some time to enjoy other things.


4. What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a middle grades novel, doing research for a possible picture book biography, and squeezing in as many school visits and book signings (which I love!).


Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this.

Happy Holidays to all–and happy writing!



Visit the author’s website here

Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol is available both online and in book stores, where ever children’s books are sold.

Learn more about the book and purchase it here

Misfits in Mist

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff along with an author interview! 

Writing Challenge: Mist and History

Imagine living hundreds of years ago, in a country that’s always covered in mist. The sun is just a milky white orb trying to shine through the whiteness all around. For 5-10 minutes, write a scene where you’re at or near your home (is it a castle, manor house, cottage or hovel?) and describe your life, what you’re wearing, etc. Include what it feels like never to see sunshine. And remember there’s no electricity…no cars…no phones…no school…no hospitals…You haven’t even heard of such things!

You can write in another character if you like, and use dialogue. If you do, try making it sound old fashioned. Have fun with it!

Submit your response here for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for? 

  The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff

KitG Book Cover




Fiery-headed Jemma has always felt like the family misfit at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle, and is increasingly disturbed by the dark goings-on there. On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Jemma discovers the dreadful reason why: She is not who she thinks she is, and the Agromonds have terrifying plans for her. Her life in danger, she flees from the castle.

But saving her skin is just the first of Jemma’s ordeals. Ghosts and outcasts, a pair of crystals, a mysterious book, and an ancient prophecy gradually reveal the truth about her past, and proclaim a destiny far greater and more dangerous than any she could imagine.

With her trusted friend, Digby, and her two telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, Jemma faces enemies both human and supernatural. But in the end, she and her untapped powers might be the only hope for a kingdom in peril.

Check out the book trailer!


An interview with author, Kit Grindstaff

1. Many of our young writers have tendencies to rush through writing the exciting moments of their stories. Many of your scenes in The Flame and the Mist are full of tension and dark details that make the setting even more creepy. Why do you think slowing down and building suspense is important? How do you approach building tension in a story?

KitG-scaring myself silly

Kit scaring herself silly!

I think contrast is vital. We live in a world of dichotomies and opposites; you can’t have light without darkness, and vice versa. Each offsets the other, and makes it stronger. Contrasts create tension.

There’s different ways to build in that contrast. Sometimes dramatic action coming out of the blue is great. But for a book like The Flame in the Mist, a slow build, never quite knowing when the Big Scare is going to hit, creates better creepiness and suspense. Winding up tension in a character also builds tension in the reader. For this, sensory details help a lot: a drop of condensation falling from a cellar ceiling; a slight movement through trees; a sinister rustle of wind…small things that contrast with the hugeness, say, of a dark night, or even the fear that the character is feeling. Details like that make the fear more human and palpable, so that when action breaks out, it has more impact and meaning.

Also, small details within an action scene, and not just leading up to it, are important. An example in The Flame in the Mist is where Jemma is fighting a vicious creature in the forest. I initially wrote it as pure action, but it felt kind of flat. So, at the point when Jemma thinks she’s about to die, I added a glimpse into her feelings: she thinks about all she’ll never experience, things she’s longed to see that she’ll never see. That ramped up the emotion and made her imminent death really matter. It didn’t take much – just one line – but it made all the difference.

Kit's Writing Cave aka A CHAIR

Kit’s Writing Cave aka A CHAIR

2. In Inklings classes, we talk about doorways into stories, and how some authors like to start with character, others with setting, others with plot ideas, and others with theme. How do story ideas start for you? How did the idea for The Flame in the Mist start?

The idea for The Flame in the Mist fell into my head almost all at once. But if I had to choose, I’d say that character came a split second before setting (although the two feel sort of inseparable). So there was this idea: “girl trapped in castle miles from anywhere with weird/evil family”, and I thought, Hmm, that’s interesting. Now, why is she there, and where did she come from, and Oh, Look! There’s a mist! What’s that doing? And who are these evil people? From the answers, the plot began to unfold. The symbolism of the mist came pretty early on, too: the veil of lies the Agromonds have pulled over Jemma; the thing that hides the truth of who she really is, and her own powers.


3. Some young authors find revision to be a struggle and often give up when approached with revision strategies. How do you approach revision?

I’m probably not the best to give advice, because I leap at revision! I suspect though that a lot of resistance to it might be fear that one’s story is no good. So if that’s true for anyone reading this, know that we all go through self-doubt (yes, even revision fans.). Try taking a step back, and look at the big picture. Do you love your story? Do you want it to be the best it can be? If you answer “yes” to both of those, it might shift your fear/resistance to revision just enough to motivate you to do it anyway.


Kit in the Peruvian jungle (one reason to stay on earth)

Kit in the Peruvian jungle (one reason to stay on earth)

4. If you could live in a fantasy world from any book, which would it be and why?

Well, definitely not Anglavia under the Agromonds and their Mist! The problem with any fantasy world is that there’s going to be big trouble there, or else it wouldn’t be in a book. So however cozy Hobbiton might be, for example, there’s Big Scary Stuff not too far away. And while I’d love to spend time at Hogwarts and learn to do crazy magical things, I’d be nervous about you-know-who’s successor coming along, or something. So wherever it was, I’d rather just visit. Besides, our “real” world is where all my family and friends are, so short of uprooting all of them too…and also, here-and-now Earth has so many amazing places I haven’t yet seen, that I’m more than happy to live here.

Thank you, Kit Grindstaff!

Visit the author’s website

Learn more about the book and purchase it here

Watch the book trailer here

Kit’s niece age 6, with her dad, when they recorded her singing for the book trailer!

Kit’s niece age 6, with her dad, when they recorded her singing for the book trailer!

Vile Villains! Or not?

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff along with an author interview! 

The Challenge: Misunderstood Villains

Even villains have reasons for their actions. Some villains feel that they are misunderstood. Have you ever considered a villain’s feelings? In the book Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Liesl Shurtliff shows how misunderstood the character Rumpelstiltskin is. Choose a fairytale villain and write a scene from his or her point of view. Show how the villain might be misunderstood.

Submit your response here for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for? Dev (age 11) submitted below. Can you guess which villain Dev’s writing features?

I hate Harry Potter! How would you like it ig someone murders part of your soul? He should be sent to Azkaban  Also it is not fair that we share the same core of the wand. I would have killed him years ago. Now I am dead because of him!

– Dev, age 11

  Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.

RUMPCoverHighRes His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse. There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.

An interview with author, Liesl Shurtliff

1. With young writers, we focus on the process of writing and often have discussions about different creative processes. What is your writing process like? Do you have any habits?

My process is somewhat haphazard. I always have a character and basic premise in mind, a loose idea of a beginning, middle, and ending, but the rest I discover along the way. Sometimes I have to go back and change a lot. It’s probably not the most economical way of writing but it works for me. I’ve made a habit of writing early in the morning. I never thought of myself as a morning person, but out of necessity I recently started getting up very early to write, and it’s turned out to be wonderful. Everything is so still and quiet. My mind is rested, my imagination loose, and things seem to come together easier. Liesl B&W1

2. How long did it take to write Rump and what was the most difficult part to write?

It took me a little over a year to write Rump before I got a publisher. The most difficult part was the ending, or resolution of things. I wrote about 80 pages before I figured out where I was headed, and I ended up having to rewrite almost the entire beginning (just like I said above.)

3. Where do you get ideas for stories? Do you draw inspiration from people, places, questions?

I get ideas and inspiration from just about everything, but I think most of my story ideas start with questions, usually what if’s and why’s. For Rump, the story stemmed from my general fascination with names, combined with all the questions surrounding the tale and character of Rumpelstiltskin. A lot of ideas come seemingly out of nowhere, but when I think about it later, I can usually connect all of them to something I’ve experienced. But it isn’t necessary to worry about where ideas come from in the moment. The important thing is to be open and listening, and willing to work with what you have and what comes your way. It can’t be forced, that inspiration. It demands patience.

4. If you could be a character in any fairy tale, who would you be and why?

I think I would be Gretel, from Hansel and Gretel. I would like a taste of that candy house, and how satisfying that she’s the one who defeats the wicked witch in the end! One of the few proactive, self-saving females in traditional fairytales. Smart, crafty girl.


Thank you, Liesl Shurtliff! Visit the author’s website Learn more about the book and purchase it here

Happy Book Birthday!

We are proud to wish a happy book birthday to The Other Side of Carroll by Sophia Nesamoney.

Every writer dreams of holding a book in their hands, published, with his or her name on the spine. But why should young writers wait until they grow up for their dream to come true? Young Inklings like Sophia Nesamoney have proven that young people absolutely have the passion, dedication and skill to create novels worthy of a reader’s nightstand.

In the Your Name in Ink Program, professional writers mentor young writers through a six-month revision process which results in publication and distribution. Read more about the program here.


Oliver and Shirley Tark were about eight years old one summer, and the family had come back from seeing a movie. Their father sent Oliver to get some bread. Shirley was playing outside with her jump rope, and the parents were discussing a dangerous topic they never talked about in front of the children. But then something happened, something that changes the course of all their lives. Something big, something that could never be fixed.

Oliver and Shirley’s journey is a unique one. It captures the importance of family and will surely take readers on a thrilling ride full of sadness, memories, adventure, and joy.

Order the book here. The Other Side of Carroll will be for sale through Amazon and Ibook soon!

Browse more books by young authors here.

Uncommon Settings

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman along with an author interview! 

The Challenge: Uncommon Settings

Having a setting in your book that is uncommon can go a long way toward making your book more interesting. Think of somewhere you go that is ordinary— school, home, the grocery store, the dentist, the playground— anywhere, then think about how you could change that setting to make it more fascinating. For 5-10 minutes, write about that scene, describing what is different or unusual about it.

Submit your letter here for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?


Sky Jumpers By Peggy Eddleman

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath— the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in— than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or to die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. Inventing won’t help them, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.


An interview with author, Peggy Eddleman!


Sky Jumpers will be released on September 24. Can you tell us about any challenges in getting your first book published? Do you have any special plans for the 24th?

The biggest challenge in getting my first book published was in learning everything I needed to craft a book worthy of being published. I grabbed every opportunity I could to learn more, I read a lot, I wrote a lot, and I had a lot of people read my writing and tell me where I could improve. Once I had written four books for practice, I poured everything I had learned into Sky Jumpers. Then I went through the steps of finding an agent, and then she found my publisher.

My launch party isn’t until two days after my release, so I’ll be spending my release day doing school visits. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than with the kids I wrote it for.

The main character in Sky Jumpers, 12-year-old Hope, wants to be an inventor, but repeatedly fails. Sometimes a young writer’s first instinct is to create a perfect character with no faults. Why do you think it’s important to create a main character with faults?

I heard somewhere once– I can’t remember where— that characters are cool because of their strengths; they are interesting because of their weaknesses. You want your characters to be both cool and interesting, so it’s important to give them both strengths and weaknesses. And if you have a character with only strengths, they don’t feel real. Everybody has weaknesses. Your characters should, too.

Your book has a very unique setting— your main character and her town live in one of the craters that were made by the bombs that destroyed most of the world. How do you come up with settings that are unique?

For Sky Jumpers, I wanted a place that was wide open and empty, because it mirrored the population after the bombs hit. So I chose Nebraska. But I also needed mountains by the town, so that the people who lived there could be near both the protection and danger that the Bomb’s Breath provided. So I thought about what was most unexpected and ironic— that the people would live inside the crater made by the thing that wiped out most of the earth’s population. Sometimes, coming up with a unique setting is just like that— you try to think what would be most unexpected or what would look most fascinating and be intriguing. And other times, especially if you are writing a story that is in our time and our world, it’s a matter of choosing the more unusual setting. Why have the kids in your story walk home from school on the street, when they can walk home through a creepy swamp or a construction site? Why have a classroom in your story be normal and boring, when you can have a teacher who decided to decorate it like a jungle, or a teacher obsessed with mustaches and had one on every picture in the room? Take whatever idea you get first, and push it further. Change it, twist it, add to it. See if you can think of a way to make it more interesting than what’s normal.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? Do you have any projects in the works?

More books filled with action and adventure! Those are my very favorite to write, and my very favorite to read. I’ve been hard at work on the sequel to Sky Jumpers, which comes out in the fall of 2014.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?


A lot of people talk about having “writer’s block.” It basically means that when you sit down to write, no ideas come. It’s by far one of the biggest reasons why people don’t like to write, and one of the biggest reasons that stops people who do like to write from finishing their story. Do you know what is the number one way to get through writer’s block? Daydreaming! The more you think about your story, the more you’ll figure out how you want things, and the more you’ll know exactly what you want to write next. The more you daydream, even more fascinating ideas will come to you. And the more you think through your story, the more excited you’ll be about it, and the more you won’t be able to wait until you can get a chance to get that story out on paper. The best, most exciting books, gadgets, ideas, and products in the world came about because of someone’s daydreaming.


Thank you, Peggy Eddleman!

Visit the author’s website
Learn more about the book here

Letters to Characters

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington along with an author interview! 

The Challenge: Letters to Characters

In Sure Signs of Crazy, part of the story-line involves a teacher requesting that his students practice their writing skills by writing to a favorite character in a book. What would you tell your favorite character? What questions would you ask?

Submit your letter here for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for? 

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

You’ve never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While her friends obsess over Harry Potter, she spends her time writing letters to Atticus Finch. She collects trouble words in her diary. Her best friend is a plant. And she’s never known her mother, who left when Sarah was two. 

Everything changes when Sarah launches an investigation into her family’s Big Secret. She makes unexpected new friends and has her first real crush, and instead of a “typical boring Sarah Nelson summer,” this one might just turn out to be extraordinary.Since then, Sarah and her dad have moved from one small Texas town to another, and not one has felt like home. 

Sure Signs of Crazy_CoverAn interview with author, Karen Harrington!

1. In Inklings classes we play theater games to explore our characters. While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters? 

feel as if I was a character, but I think I saw the world through Sarah’s eyes. I think that’s a fun and necessary part of the writing process. For Sarah, I began to see the importance of Atticus Finch through her young eyes and so I shared her desire to have him as a father. If I’d discovered TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at her age, I might have written letters to Atticus, too. 

2. How did you come up with the title, Sure Signs of Crazy?

The publisher came up with this title. My original title was NO ORDINARY GIRL, but SURE SIGNS is much better. It connects to Sarah’s longing to understand if she will inherit the traits of her mother. She’s on a quest to look for the signs.

3. What books have influenced your life most?

There are so many. Certainly TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD had a huge impact on me as a person and as a writer. When I first read it, I wanted Atticus Finch to be my father. When I became a mother, I wanted to parent like Atticus Finch.

Other books I’ve loved and reread are LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott and THE WITCHES OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Spear. These are two books I can say were in my “I can’t put this down/I don’t want to go to dinner” books. Later, I came to love Ernest Hemingway, Tim O’Brien, Pat Conroy and Elizabeth Berg. And in recent years, I’ve become a huge fan-girl of Jerry Spinelli, Gary D. Schmidt and Rebecca Stead.

4. The blank page can be scary and intimidating. When you first get a new idea for a story, what is your process for beginning?

For all my first drafts, I pretend I’m telling the story to my best friend. This takes a lot of the pressure off to have a perfect draft. For example, when you are “telling” a story, sometimes you zigzag backwards and say to your friend, “Oh, I forgot to tell this part…” Or, sometimes your friend might interrupt you and ask a question in the middle of your “telling” and so you pause and answer that question. For your first draft, there are no rules and you can zigzag and have all the interruptions you want.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?

Read! Reading inspires writing. So many of history’s great writers didn’t attend a fancy writing school. They went to the library. If you are stuck in your writing, go read. There’s something about reading a good story that makes you want to go write one. For me, when I feel that my writing well is running dry, I spend a couple of hours reading and before long, I want to open my notebook and write. For a writer, reading great sentences is the same as an athlete doing stretches before a run or a game. Think of it: athletes don’t just show up to the track and BOOM, sprint to the finish. You see them on the sidelines doing all kinds of stretches and preparation techniques. You have to do this as a writer. You have to give yourself a warm up period. (Actual stretching is also very, very wise, too.)

And when you DO read, read like a writer. Take note of why you loved a certain scene or sentence. Really be alert to how a book is moving YOU. Take note of why something made you cry or laugh. How the author made you scared or eager to turn the next page.

The other piece of advice is not to give up. Surely, other people have said this more profoundly, but it’s because it’s true. I have a nice, fat file of rejection letters. I have more than twenty stories that have only been seen by the inside of my drawer. But all of that writing was important. It was experience. No writing is ever wasted. None of it. It’s all part of the education. Every bit of it is useful and necessary. Every bit!

Thank you, Karen Harrington!

Visit the author’s website
Buy the book here

Growing Up

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. Featured in this Ink Splat is Elisabeth Dahl, author of Genie Wishes. Submit a response to the writing challenge for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Growing Up


Think of a scene or moment in your life that made you realize that you were growing up. Maybe you reacted to your grandfather’s teasing differently than you would have a year or two earlier. Maybe you put on your previous spring’s baseball pants and found they were too small. Maybe you realized that suddenly you had a crush on someone you’d played flashlight tag with as friends for years. Be sure to pack what you write with lots of concrete details so that the reader really feels what you’re feeling, hears what you’re hearing, and sees what you’re seeing. Remember: in most cases, showing works better than telling.

Submit your response for a chance to be published online HERE.

Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl

This sweet, funny novel follows fifth-grader Genie Kunkle through a tumultuous year. From the first day of school, Genie knows there will be good, bad, and in-between. The good? She’s in homeroom with her best friend, Sarah. The bad? Sarah’s friend from camp, Blair, is a new student at their school, and is itching to take Genie’s place as Sarah’s BFF. The in-between? Genie is excited to be elected to write her class’s blog, where she’s tasked with tracking the wishes and dreams of her class. But expressing her opinion in public can be scary—especially when her opinion might make the rest of her class upset.

Elisabeth Dahl authentically captures the ups and downs of a tween girl’s life, and the dramas—both little and big—that fill the scary transition between childhood and adolescence.

An interview with author, Elisabeth Dahl

Elisabeth Dahl1. Authors often draw upon life experiences in their writing. Did you encounter any of the challenges Genie faces in your own childhood?

Oh, definitely. Although blogging, e-mail, and cell phones weren’t around when I was in fifth grade, the emotions associated with the transition from childhood to teen- and adulthood don’t really change. It was a happy but sometimes wobbly time, a time of dawning realizations. Like Genie, I was a faculty/scholarship kid at a private school and my family was a bit unconventional and I was a little on the plump side and by fifth grade I was really pretty aware of these ways I was different from my classmates. Fortunately, I didn’t have the friendship drama that Genie experiences in fifth grade, but I saw classmates experience it.

I lent Genie one particularly choice memory: the time a more “mature” girl shrieked upon noticing that I didn’t shave my legs. I felt so unjustly accused. Who even knew that was something you were supposed to do? I didn’t have an older sister or cousin to clue me in to this sort of thing, and neither does Genie.

2. In Inklings classes we play theater games to explore our characters. Do you ever think about your characters in everyday life? At the grocery store or in the park?

I love the idea of exploring characters through actual theater games–that’s cool!

definitely think of the characters in everyday life, especially since I may use them in other books. For a while, I was tweeting on Genie’s behalf, commenting on little things I’d come across that I knew she’d like. If I found a photo of baby hedgehogs (hedgehoglets!), for instance–a photo I knew she’d adore–I might tweet about it. And whenever I walk into our pool, I picture Genie and her friend Sophie there, the summer after GENIE WISHES ends. Characters really live on inside you, whether or not they continue to appear in books.

3. What about the line drawings in the book? Did you do them, and if so, were they part of the project from the start?

I did do them, and yes, they were part of GENIE WISHES from the very first hour. I love books with illustrations. (I wish more books for adults had them!) I particularly like relatively simple line drawings, the kind you see in everything from the ORIGAMI YODA series to THE LITTLE PRINCE to the columns of the NEW YORKER magazine. I felt that I could create illustrations for Genie that would offer readers another glimpse into her as a character. Her father is an artist and art teacher, so art is part of her life, even though I don’t think Genie herself is on the path to becoming a professional artist.

4. What book are you reading now?

Because I write for both children and adults, my bedside table stocks both kids’ books and adults’ books. Right now, on the children’s side, I’m reading Lisa Greenwald’s MY LIFE IN PINK AND GREEN. And on the adult side, I just finished Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? I tend to read mainly what I write–character-driven, realistic fiction.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?

Oh gosh. First of all, as a practical matter, it’s not a bad idea to get your name (or something close) as a URL, for a possible eventual website. Then again, maybe by the time you’re writing professionally, there will be some new, more flexible technological information venue. Anyway, I’m glad I had the foresight to nail down long before I really needed it.

Also, on a far more important level, try to take classes where you read books, stories, essays, and poems not as a literary critic (what most English classes teach you) but as a writer–that is, from the perspective of the writer. I’m talking about classes where the instructor will guide you in talking about why the writer made the choices he or she did at the points he or she did, and where you do lots of writing too–and workshop that student writing as a group.

Keep a notebook of ideas and observations–small, specific things. You never know what detail or thought might fit into something you’re writing later. Also, you won’t always be the age you are now. The notebook will help the older you remember what it was like to be the you that you are now! Thank you, Elisabeth Dahl.

You can learn more about Elisabeth Dahl by visting her website.

Get Genie Wishes from theses great booksellers:

Barnes & Noble




Fantasy Gateways

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. Featured in this Ink Splat is Claire M Caterer, author of The Key & The Flame. Submit a response to the writing challenge for a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Gateways

Magical worlds are just beyond ordinary gateways. A rabbit hole leads to Wonderland. A wardrobe leads to Narnia. Wherever you are right now, look around and pick an ordinary object. Describe the object. Imagine this object is a gateway to a magical place. What fantastical world does it lead to?

Submit your response for a chance to be published online HERE.

The Key & The Flame by Claire M Caterer

Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard longs for adventure, some escape from her humdrum life. That is precisely what she gets when she is given an old iron key that unlocks a door—in a tree.

Holly crosses the threshold into a stunning and magical medieval world, Anglielle. And as she does so, something unlocks within Holly: a primal, powerful magic. Holly is joined on her journey by two tagalongs—her younger brother Ben, and Everett, an English boy who hungers after Holly’s newfound magic and carries a few secrets of his own. When Ben and Everett are sentenced to death by the royals, whose fear of magic has fueled a violent, systemic slaughter of all enchanted creatures, Holly must save them and find a way back home. But will she be able to muster the courage and rise above her ordinary past to become an extraordinary hero?

An interview with author, Claire M Caterer

1. There are so many great fantasy stories with incredible worlds. Did you draw inspiration from any particular stories?

I’ve always been attracted to what are called “gateway fantasies”—stories in which an ordinary person in our own world finds a doorway or travels in a machine to a magical world. Books like The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and of course, The Chronicles of Narnia, fit this pattern. The Narnia books were my very favorites growing up. I also love stories by Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling. I love the idea that fantastical worlds are hiding around a corner or behind a bookcase.

2. The Key & the Flame is the first in a series. Did you know you were going to write a series when you first began? If so, how did it affect your writing?

When I initially thought of the idea, I didn’t intend it to be a series, but once I started to map out the story, it was clear I would need more than one book to tell it. I stepped back then and really thought about how the story would play out over five books, each of which would focus around a particular mystical element (fire, water, earth, air, and aether). I took time to write out a detailed history of the fantasy world and to think of how the characters would evolve over time. Because of all that preparation, the first book took quite awhile to write. And I was terribly nervous that I would end up breaking my own plot rules before the series was done!

3. In Inklings classes, we talk about doorways into stories, and how some authors like to start with character, others with setting, others with plot ideas, and others with theme. How do story ideas start for you? How did the idea for The Key and the Flame start?

Some of my stories start with a character. A very strong person will assert herself in my imagination, and the story just builds around her and her choices. But The Key & the Flame started with the idea and setting together. Forests to me are mystical places, whether they’re here on Earth or in some alternate world. Trees are among the oldest living things in our world. The idea that a tree would exist as a bridge across time made sense to me. Then the idea shifted, and I thought that a tree could act as a bridge or portal to another, alternate world entirely. Holly, my main character, grew very quickly out of that idea, because she is a girl who loves the natural world.

4. The Key and the Flame is told through multiple points of view. Some young writers struggle to find each character’s unique voice. How did you overcome this challenge?

That’s definitely the challenge in writing with multiple points of view, but I think it’s worth experimenting with. In my case, it helped that my characters are so distinct: Holly is an American girl; Everett is a British boy. Their speech cadence is different, their outlook is different, their life experiences are different. I tried very hard to imagine myself as Everett when writing his chapters, and as Holly when I wrote her chapters. In a way, it’s harder when the characters are too similar. Everett is not exactly like Ben, Holly’s brother, but they’re both boys of similar ages, and they share a lot of scenes in the book. So in their scenes, I used a highlighter to mark Everett’s dialogue in one color and Ben’s in another. Then I read through just Everett’s lines and made sure they sounded consistent with his character, and I did the same with Ben’s. I was especially careful to do this when writing a scene with five or six characters. Each one has to have a distinct voice.

5. What drew you to choose modern and medieval England as your settings?

The British Isles work very well for gateway fantasies because so many of our myths and legends come from that place. Our visions of fairy folk are rooted in Celtic stories, and the legends of King Arthur have inspired many sword-and-sorcery tales. In the book, Everett talks about history being heavy there—a lot of layers on top of one another. That makes slipping between times and places a bit easier.

6. Did you do a lot of research about knights and the Middle Ages?

I did, but a lot of what I read didn’t make it into the story, and I felt free to change and adapt what I’d learned as well. Because Anglielle is an invented world, styles of dress or language aren’t exactly like ours, so I certainly wouldn’t use my book as a historical reference! However, I did use my research to flavor the book and to get an idea of what life in that time period was like.

7. What advice would you give young writers who want to write a fantasy story?

First of all, read a lot of fantasy stories. Read as many as you can get your hands on, both classic and contemporary fantasy. See what writers before you have done and how they’ve handled issues like world building, characterization, action scenes, and magic. You’ll learn both what works well and what’s been done so much that it’s clichéd and boring.You’ll also need to do a lot of dreaming. I’m serious about this. You have to be open to the unusual and the fantastical. Even if you’re just riding in the car on the way to your piano lesson, be thinking of what could happen: What if the car had a mind of its own and sprouted wings, like in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ian Fleming)? What if the car were a time machine, like in Back to the Future (a film by Robert Zemeckis)? Or what if it got angry and attacked you, like in Christine (Stephen King)? Which superpowers would you love to have, and which ones would seem cool to start with but turn out to be troublesome later on? Let your imagination run wild.

Finally, you’ll need to do a lot of writing. Fantasy writing is fun because it seems like the sky’s the limit—except that it’s not. There are limits and rules, even if they’re of your own making. Harry Potter had to learn magic bit by bit, and it didn’t solve all of his problems. In fact, often magic causes more problems than it solves. Write as much as you possibly can, and then rewrite. That’s when the best writing happens.


Thank you, Claire.

Visit the author’s website.

Buy The Key & The Flame here.

Strong Emotions

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. Included in this Ink Splat is a writing challenge and author interview from Ari Goelman, author of The Path of Names. Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online!

The Challenge: Strong Emotions

Think of a time when you felt a strong emotion — good or bad, whatever you prefer. Just make sure you can think of a specific time when you felt it, be it happy, excited, lonely, nervous, awkward, depressed, angry, whatever.

Now write for 5-10 minutes about that particular episode, keeping the following instructions in mind:

1) Don’t mention the emotion.
2) Don’t write about your feelings.
3) Don’t write about what you were thinking.
4) Just write about the details you remember.

For instance, let’s say you were in a classroom when the incident occurred. Write about the sounds you remember, the whir of the heating system in the class room, the smell of chalk dust, etc. The words that the teacher said. The more concrete you can be the better. You will be amazed at how much emotion you can get across.

This is a modified version of an exercise the author Octavia Butler assigned the Clarion West Writer’s workshop in 2001.

Submit your response for a chance to be published online HERE.

The Path of Names by Ari Goelman

Dahlia Sherman loves magic, and Math Club, and Guitar Hero. She isn’t so fond of nature walks, and Hebrew campfire songs, and mean girls her own age. So Jewish summer camp is pretty much the worst idea ever.

But within minutes of arriving at camp, Dahlia realizes that it might not be as bad as she’d feared. First she sees two little girls walk right through the walls of her cabin. Then come the dreams — frighteningly detailed visions of a young man being pursued through 1930s New York City. How are the dreams and the girls related? Why is Dahlia the only one who can see any of them? And what’s up with the overgrown, strangely shaped hedge maze that none of the campers are allowed to touch? Dahlia’s increasingly dangerous quest for answers will lead her right to the center of the maze — but it will take all her courage, smarts, and sleight-of-hand skills to get her back out again.

An interview with author, Ari Goelman

1. When you started writing The Path of Names, did you start with an idea of a character, or did you start with an idea of the plot, or did you start somewhere else entirely?

I think I actually started with the idea of the summer camp setting. I spent years at a summer camp when I was younger, and for years afterwards I found myself thinking about the summer camp every summer. So one summer, about four years after I had stopped working at the camp, I wrote a short story set there. It was a totally flawed short story, probably as I was trying to cram a novel into it, so I put it aside. Then, about eight years later (again in the summer), I stumbled across my notes on the short story and expanded it to the novel that became The Path of Names.

2. Many of our young writers don’t enjoy plotting, because they like the feeling of being their own “first reader” and discovering what happens as they write, scene by scene. We play with planning tools that allow for planning a little ahead of time, and then also planning later, as part of revision. Do you have a plotting process that works well for you?

I think when you say they don’t enjoy plotting, what that means is they don’t enjoy what I might call outlining, where some writers outline the whole plot before they start writing. I can’t do that, either. I find that if I outline something too completely I lose all interest in writing it. On the other hand, I have to do some planning ahead or I find the plot simply won’t advance. To that end, I often write the end of a novel very early on in the writing process, even knowing I’m almost definitely going to end up changing it. So insofar as I have a plotting process, that’s it – have a rough idea of where I want the story to go but accept that it will change as I actually write the novel out.

3. The Path of Names is a mixture of fantasy and murder mystery. What was the most
difficult part of bringing both elements together in the story?

I think the most difficult part was laying out the rules of magic clearly enough that the mystery felt satisfying when it was solved. I wanted to be sure readers don’t feel cheated when they find out what actually happened, which to me means providing them with all the clues they need to solve the mystery on their own.

4. What was the most fun part of writing The Path of Names?

Probably the most fun was writing the banter between the main characters. I have clear memories of how funny and snarky thirteen-year-olds can be, so it was fun to try to capture that in my novel.

5. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I always wanted to be a writer, but I was in my late twenties before I actually tried writing. I’m not sure why it took so long, but I’ve talked to quite a few authors who had the same experience – where it took them a long time to move from the desire to be a writer to actually putting words on paper.
In my case, I think a few early creative writing classes actually got in the way. I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy fiction, but the first few creative writing classes I took (in high school and college) were very much focused on a kind of literary fiction that I had little interest in reading or writing. I don’t think I really developed as a writer until I took some time off to write on my own. I needed some time away from criticism before I could benefit from a class or writing workshop.

6. What advice would you give young writers who want to write a mystery/fantasy story?

The same advice I’d give writers of any age who want to write anything. The same advice I give myself on a daily basis. Write. Make it a part of your daily routine. The amazing thing is how hard this can be. For me, it helps to get lots of sleep. It helps to read fiction that I like. It really helps to turn off the Internet for a few hours and work in a room with a door that closes. And, finally, it helps to accept that you will sometimes hate what you’re writing. You will feel uninspired and dull. Keep going, and you will get to a place where you read what you wrote the day before, and some portion of it will seem good. Keep going and some parts will even make you laugh.

I guess that’s what my advice boils down to. Keep going.

Thank you, Ari Goelman!

Visit the author’s website:

Buy Path of Names here

Spontaneous Poetry

The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. Did you know April is national poetry month? Included in this Ink Splat are poetry prompts and poems written by young authors and an interview with Tamera Will Wissinger, author of Gone Fishing, a novel in verse. Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online!

The Challenge: Spontaneous Poetry

Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, and is inspired by many sources. Here are a few prompts with examples by young poets that may spark a poem for you!

Submit your poetry prompt and response for a chance to be published online HERE.

Steven’s Prompt: Make up a character with an alliterative name and write a story about something that he or she refuses to do.

Xavier Xanthia Xaneo

Xavier Xanthia Xaneo
Never took a shower, bath or washed
He said, “I hate that trio”
He ran and in doing so squashed
All the hope his parents had
That he would take a shower
He got so dirty, he called it a new fad
When he walked, everybody would cower
For he smelled worse than a skunk
No one dared aggravate him
Or call him a punk
His smell could cut off a limb
Finally he learned his lesson (At last!)
When his school caught fire
No one would save him because of his shower free past
His situation was dire
He did survive
But after that he always took his showers
Since he wanted to survive
Sometimes they took hours!
That is the tale of Xavier Xanthia Xaneo
Who never took a shower, bath, or washed


Eliza’s Prompt: Write a poem that is an exaggeration of a good thing or a bad thing. Exaggerate this crazily.

The Most Frightening Nightmare

I was walking down the street and I tripped in front of Joe
No, I was walking down the street and I fell flat on my face in front of the football coach whose team I wanted to play for
No, I was walking through Times Square and I tripped and fell in front of a TV reporter even if I was only in the background
No, I was walking out on the field for a halftime show with my soccer team in front of 30,000 people and I tripped and fell
No, I was walking down a street with goblins all around and I tripped and fell and the goblins killed me
No, I was walking through a spidery mansion and a wicked witch grabbed me and chained me to the palace walls for three centuries and then I died a long terrible death
No, I spontaneously combusted!


JJ’s Prompt: Make a list of about twenty crazy words and then write a poem about how you feel (or might feel) using those words.

I Feel Like A…

I feel like a…
Stupendously mashed potato
A frozen shooting star
A polka-dot snowflake thief.
I feel like a…
Diagonal bubblegum kaleidoscope
An eccentric silk lightning
An aquamarine velcro puddle.
I feel like a…
Glitter zipper flip-flop
An absurd chalk comet
A secret phantom magician.
I feel like a…


Interview with Tamera Will Wissinger, author of Gone Fishing, A Novel in Verse:

1. Why did you choose to write Gone Fishing as a novel in verse?

Gone Fishing didn’t start out as a novel in verse. Believe it or not, it began as a picture book with about twenty poems. Once I began to work with my editor, she helped me imagine it as a longer story, and it grew into a novel in verse from there. I did make a choice to write the story using poems. That choice came from my own love of rhyme, rhythm, and stories written with poetry.

2. You wrote in a variety of poetic forms. Why did you choose to vary the styles of poetry through the book? Do you like a particular form of poetry better than others?

Poetic forms are fascinating to me. I have always liked to read rhythm and rhyme and stanza patterns, and the more I investigated and learned about poetry techniques and poetic forms, the more intrigued I became. When I began to write using poetic forms, it felt as though I was solving a puzzle. Since each form has a specific framework and guidelines, those acted as clues. As the poet, I got to choose the best words that followed those guidelines, simultaneously building the poem and solving the puzzle!

I don’t have one particular form that I love the best. I do enjoy finding those “just-right” words or phrases that are important to poetry, and I also love that each poem plays an important role in telling the overall story.

3. Do you like to go fishing? If so, are you more like the brother or the sister character?

I do like to go fishing. I used to fish with my family when I was young and now I fish with my husband, and my parents when they visit. I don’t even mind the days when we don’t catch anything. Just being near the water is interesting to me – it’s so peaceful on calm days and can get so stirred up on windy or rough days. I also love to watch nature – around water there is always something new and different to see.

As far as Sam and Lucy, the characters in Gone Fishing, I am a little like both. I like to have a plan, which is similar to one of Sam’s traits, and I like to bring along way too many things when I’m taking a trip, which is similar to one of Lucy’s behaviors. Since I’m the middle child of three kids, I know what it’s like to be a little sister, and also what it’s like to be a big sister. As I wrote from each character’s points of view, I used what I remembered from my own experiences.

4. Your book isn’t only an engaging story, but it is also cleverly put together. Do you normally start with a concept for a book’s structure when you write, or do you normally start with the story idea? Or is each book’s writing process different?

Thank you! I usually start with a bit of a story idea – maybe it’s an image or an event. In the case of Gone Fishing, I wrote the opening poem, Night Crawlers, first, before there was a fully formed story. That poem bubbled up from my memories of hunting for worms with my family before a fishing trip. Since Gone Fishing was a novel in verse, I worked with my editor to develop story elements, and then I would choose the poetic forms and write new poems that helped tell the story.

Whether it’s a picture book for very young children, a story in poems, or a middle grade novel, I usually begin by kicking around that nugget of an idea and just write for a while to see what comes out. As I write, the story’s shape usually begins to emerge.

5. What advice do you have for young writers who’d like to write a novel in verse?

First, have a good story to tell. A story in verse is one way of telling a story, so in my mind the structure, while important, has to help support the story in some way.
Second, know why you’re writing a story in verse – if you’re writing for younger children, this format might be a lighthearted way to deliver a story. If you’re writing for older students, the format might have something to do with the story. In other words, the main character may actually write poetry or journal in poetry as part of the story.
Third, read a lot of poetry stories and see what the authors of those stories are doing to make their stories verse novels. To really be a verse novel, the story will need to have rhythm (and rhyme if appropriate), poetry techniques, and/or poetic forms.

6. Do you have a favorite story in verse that you can share?

There are many novels in verse that I like. Here are some favorites broken down by reading age:

For Early Grade Readers: Emma Dilemma by Kristine O’Connell George; the Danitra Brown books by Nikki Grimes. (These books are written for younger children to read, but they are good examples for writers who want to learn how to tell a story in verse.)

For Middle Grade Verse Novel Readers: Love That Dog by Sharon Creech; May B. by Caroline Star Rose

For Middle School/High School Verse Novel Readers: Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Shakespeare Makes The Playoffs by Ron Koertge; Carver: A Life In Poems or A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

7. Since April is National Poetry Month, do you have suggestions for how young writers can participate in the month-long celebration?

There are many ways to join in the fun. One simple way is to celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day on April 18, a day where you select a poem and carry it in your pocket, ready to pull out and read. If readers feel like it, they might even want to ask their librarian to help organize a pocket poem reading. I’m planning to attend a reading that day at my local bookstore with a group of student authors and I’ll read one of my own poems that I’ll carry in my pocket.

Here is a link to the Academy of American Poets – the organization that started National Poetry Month! They have a full list of events and activities for students.

Thank you for inviting me to join you for Ink Splat! I wish you all good writing and a Happy Poetry Month!

Tamera Will Wissinger

Visit the author’s website.

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