First Friends

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 When Audrey Met Alice By Rebecca Behrens along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: First Friends

Getting inside a character’s head can be difficult sometimes, especially when you don’t know them all that well. For this month’s challenge, try writing diary entries for a character, new or old, and see what they reveal about your character that you could add to your stories!

As a bonus, we have a prompt from Rebecca! Her favorite question to ask young readers is, “If you could ask a First Kid three questions about living in the White House, what would they be?”

Do a little digging:

When your story is set in an environment you may not be all that familiar with – like the White House – it’s best to do a little research about it. What does it look like? How do things work around there? Learn a bit about your setting before you start writing.

Submit your response HERE!

When Audrey Met Alice By Rebecca Behrens

When Audrey Met Alice is about what happens when Audrey, a thirteen-year-old First Daughter, finds Alice Roosevelt’s long-lost diary hidden under the floorboards of a White House closet. After reading about Alice’s wild antics—carrying around a pet snake to parties, going for joyrides in her red runabout, traveling to Cuba, and throwing a huge White House debut—Audrey is inspired to find her own ways to “eat up the world.” But trying to live like Alice threatens to get Audrey into more trouble than she can handle–and may even affect her mother’s political career.

About the STORY:

Q: Which of your characters do you identify with the most and why?


A: As a kid, I was like Audrey—a little unsure of who I was, but eager to figureit out. Audrey finds that she cares a lot about using her voice for the issues she’s passionate about, and so do I. Also, she loves cookies and a goodbook, like me.

As a grown-up now, I admire Alice’s spirit. She was such a vibrant person! I like to think that since I started researching and writing about her, I find more ways to “eat the world up.”

Q: What’s your favorite part of the story?

A: Probably when Audrey first “meets” Alice by finding her long-hidden diary. The reader and Audrey discover Alice at the same time, which is fun. And Alice’s words have an immediate effect on Audrey—which leads to a great scene in which she starts exploring the White House in a new way.

About the AUTHOR:

Q: What were your favorite books as a kid?

A: I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Walk Two Moons, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Number the Stars, and The Westing Game.

Q: What made you want to be a writer?

A: From a very early age, I was an enthusiastic reader. My favorite way to spend my free time was with my nose in a book, and I was in awe of the authors whose stories I loved. I always thought the coolest thing in the world would be the ability to make up stories for a living. It took a long time before I tried that myself (and even longer before I was any good at it)!

Storytelling is hard work, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.


Behrens2Q: Any advice or young authors?

A:A first draft is just the start. Every writer spends a lot of time revising and rewriting. The published version of When Audrey Met Alice is actually the eighth draft! It’s okay if something you write isn’t perfect, because you can always keep working to make it better. You definitely don’t have to get it right on the first try!

More about Rebecca Behrens!

Rebecca Behrens grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Chicago, and now lives in New York City, where she works as a production editor for children’s books. Rebecca loves writing and reading about girls full of moxie and places full of history.

Check out more on her website here! And The Runaway is available on Amazon!

Thanks again Rebecca Behrens!

Flying High

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 Runaway By Kate O’Hearn along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Flying High

As writers, we’re often told to write what we know. But sometimes what we want to write about doesn’t exist yet! For this month’s writing challenge, come up with your own mythical creature, object, or place (or pick an already existing one) and write a story about it!

Do a little digging:

When writing about mythology, there’s a lot of history and information behind the story. Try doing some research into a myth or two that interests you, whether it’s Greek, Roman, Norse, anything! Try using that information in your story.  

Submit your response HERE!

The Runaway By Kate O’Hearn

In the world of Asgard, living among Odin, Thor and Loki are the Valkyries. Norse goddesses, reapers of souls from human battlefields – they have the power to cause death with just one touch. Fourteen-year-old Freya is a Valkyrie – but she has not followed in the footsteps of the legends before her. She has been to the World of Man to befriend humans – and not to reap their souls. Now she and her best friend, Archie, must return to the World of Man on a new quest to track down the runaway Valkyrie of myth – Brünnhilde. But not all is as it should be, nor is their task as easy as they first expected. Dark secrets are uncovered that will send them further than they every imagined. Not trusting Loki, but unable to go without his help, Loki leads Freya, Archie and Orus (the raven), to Utgard – Land of the Frost Giants and Trolls. Here Freya discovers an old enemy with a personal grudge against her. Captured, wounded, and in danger of starting a war of EPIC proportions, Freya and Archie will face the greatest challenge yet.

About the PROCESS:

“Writing is so much more than just writing. It can really help you get your thoughts in order. And, it is a heck of a lot of fun! Of all the things I have done in my life – and there have been a lot of wacky things, the best was always writing. I can’t imagine doing anything else these days.” – Kate O’Hearn

Q: Did you know who Freya was the moment you started writing or did she slowly develop?

A: Actually, I didn’t know her at all. I had an idea of the kind of personality I wanted her to have, but nothing concrete. The one thing I wanted to be sure of is that she wasn’t a carbon copy of Emily, the lead character in my Pegasus series. This is why I wanted to write the Valkyrie series. In Pegasus, Emily was an ordinary human girl growing up in New York City when something extraordinary happens to her.  So, when it came to Freya, I wanted to do the opposite. Have an extraordinary girl try to deal with what we know as the ordinary world. So she would experience everything we take for granted, with new, startled eyes.

As for her personality, that was strangely difficult for me at first. When I take on a story using mythological characters, I do a lot of research on the full mythology. But for Norse myths, there really wasn’t a lot written about girls. The Greek myths have loads of female gods and characters, but Norse mythology focuses mainly in the men. Another thing, they are much harsher. Considering where the myths come from and the difficult life the Nordic people lived, it’s no wonder their characters were harsh. But it makes for difficult writing.  So when I started to write Freya, she had to be on the harsh side. But then gets softened by her friendship with Archie. Valkyrie

This change in her developed slowly as I got to know Freya and spent time ‘in her head’ as it were. I got to know her and understand her better. It’s strange, many writers say this and it’s true. Our characters seem to have a life of their own, and we as writers merely record what they tell us.  

Q: Do you do a lot of planning before you begin writing, or do you just sit down and write?  

A: When I start to write, I only have a rough idea of the story I want to tell. But it’s very rough!  It’s only when I start to write that things come to me. Which is why I said earlier, when getting to know Freya, it was like she was telling me what to write. Sometimes, a character will say something that will start an idea in my head. I do know that sounds crazy, but when you are really into writing a scene, I promise it’s true – sometimes things get written that you hadn’t planned to write – which lead to other things being said or done, and this takes a story in a lot of directions. Here is an example: In Valkyrie 1, I have Freya meet the head angel of death, Azrael. He was only supposed to be a simple, one book character with a very small part. But then I noticed the friendship forming between him and Freya and suddenly, he has a much bigger role and becomes a major character in book 2, ‘The Runaway’. That was never planned, it just happened. Now Azrael is one of my favourite characters.  And Loki too.  He was supposed to be a small player, but I just loved his mischievous ways, and he took a bigger role.

About the AUTHOR:

“Try it. You don’t have to worry about being good! Write for yourself. If you enjoy it, others will too!” – Kate O’Hearn

Q: What attracted you to the fantasy genre?

A: Do you know, I really don’t know. But in all honesty, I can’t conceive of writing anything else – what’s even stranger?  I tend not to read fantasy books! I like adventure/thrillers.  I was once asked to write a pony book and I immediately thought of Pegasus. But then the editor said, ‘no, just about ponies’. I said, ‘no wings?’ and she said, ‘no, just an ordinary pony’.  It was at that moment that I realised, I couldn’t think of a story with just a pony. If she had said I could put a ghost, or fairy, or even a monster in it, it would have been fine. But just normal kids and a normal pony? No. I realized I couldn’t do it. But I was so grateful to be Pegasusasked, because that is what got me thinking about Pegasus. And from there, the Pegasus series was born. After that, it was one fantasy story after another.

It is said that you must write what you love. I can say that it’s true. You must write what you love, not what someone tells you to write. If I had tried to write that ordinary pony story, I am sure it would have been awful, because it wasn’t something that interested me.  But if I could have put a ghost in it… who knows!

Q: What’s your favorite fantastical creature?

A: That question isn’t as easy to answer as I first thought it would be.  OK, if you had asked me this question 5 years ago, the answer would have been quick and easy. My favourite fantastical creatures were mermaids. All my life, they were my favourite and are still on my top 5 list – Think about it, they live in the ocean and have whales, dolphins and sharks for friends! But having spent years writing the Pegasus books, and now the Valkyrie series, I am torn between Pegasus and a Valkyrie. But you might notice, both of them fly. Oh, and we can’t forget dragons. I love dragons too.  Guess you might say, I love them all. But it really is a toss-up between Pegasus and a Valkyrie. But if I had to choose only one, it would probably be Pegs. Though I’d love to be best friends with Freya and Maya.

Q: Any advice for young writers?

A: My advice to any author, young or old, would be to just write!  Yes, I hear you moaning that you don’t know what to write about. Or where to get started… I know you’re saying that because I used to say the same thing. So let me tell you a story – and this is how I started to write with the view to getting published.

Ok, I had just moved to France to work in my family’s giftware business. I didn’t speak much French, so watching television was not fun!  Radio was the same and making friends was difficult as we couldn’t communicate.  (This was before the Internet). So, feeling miserable, I wrote to the producer of my favourite TV show, called “Quantum Leap” (it was about a man, Sam Beckett, who was trapped in time. Each episode, he would leap in to another time and have an adventure. At the end of the episode, he would be gone again.) So I asked the producer if he could send me the series on videotape.  I explained that I was living in France and didn’t really speak the language and really wanted to enjoy his show.  Much to my surprise, he wrote back to me – explaining that for legal reasons, he couldn’t send the tapes. Instead, he sent several magazines called ‘Fanzines’. These were collections of stories written by fans, which had adventures written around the show.  I read these fanzines and some of the stories were amazing, some not so great.  But when I finished the last story, I got thinking, I could write one of those….  So I did. In fact, I wrote two Quantum Leap stories and both of those got published! (I got the publisher’s address from the magazine the producer sent to me) After they were published, I was bitten by the writing bug and have been writing ever since. 

So my advice to you would be, if you want to write, but aren’t sure what you want to write, try writing a short story around your favourite TV show or even a favourite book.  That way, you already have the characters you need, (but feel free to add more) and you know the setting. The rest is up to you!

More about Kate O’Hearn!

“And finally, if anyone out there is inspired to write, please, please, follow your dream.  You can start at any age and just keep going. And if you’re really lucky like I’ve been, you can actually meet some of your characters!” – Kate O’Hearn

If you enjoy The Runaway, the second novel in Kate O’Hearn’s Valkyrie series, check out some of her other novels! Herm’s Secret is about mermaids and humpback whales, while Shadow of the Dragon is about knights, dragons, and the rise of a hero. The things all of her stories have in common is high adventure with a strong hero, and lots of mythological creatures!

Check out more on her website here! And The Runaway is available on Amazon!

Thanks again Kate O’Hearn!

School of Charm

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 School of Charm By LIsa Ann Scott along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Southern Charm

The setting of your story is a very important part. School of Charm is set in the Southern US, which plays a big part in shaping Chip’s story. Try describing a particular setting in as much detail as you can. Then, write a story set there where your character is really affected by it! SouthernLandscape

Do a little digging:

Setting your story somewhere you don’t know? Do a little research on the area. What’s the weather like? The culture? The landscape? Once you have a solid image in your mind, it’ll be much easier to describe it. 

Submit your response HERE!

School of Charm By Lisa Ann Scott

Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. But she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? A universal story about finding your place in the world, School of Charm explores themes of loss, family, and friendship.

Interview with Lisa Ann Scott:

“At the School of Charm, everyone has a wish to whisper. With an enchanting small-town setting, lively storytelling, and a hint of magic, this debut novel is perfect for fans of Ingrid Law, Clare Vanderpool, and Rebecca Stead.”

Q: What made you decide to set the story in the South? Are you from there?

A: I am not from the south, I was born in upstate New York and have lived here most of my life. I wanted Chip to move somewhere very different, and I liked the idea of her being in the so-called best little town in America, but hating it.SchoolofCharmCover

Q: The front cover of the novel is beautiful. What was it like transferring the scene in your head onto to paper?  

A: The illustrator did a great job capturing that moment where Chip finds the school think my process is different for each character. I definitely “see” the story as I’m writing it, so I try to pick out interesting details to set the reader in the moment. It was very exciting seeing that come to life when I got my first look at the cover. I asked for the dandelion puff to be added. If you read the book, you’ll figure out why. 

Q: Why children’s books?

A: I read once that you should write the age you feel you are in your heart. Moving from elementary school to middle school was such a transformative time full of angst and excitement. I can still remember all the confusing feelings from that age, so writing for kids going through that is very exciting and satisfying.

Q: Any advice for young authors?

A: Find as many opportunities to write as you can. I wrote for the school paper in high school and college, I’ve had essays published, short stories, even greeting cards.

Check out the trailer for School of Charm!

Your life will be much richer and exciting when you read and write. Welcome to a fantastic club!” – Lisa Scott

Thanks Lisa Ann Scott!

School of Charm is available at Amazon! And be sure to check out Lisa Ann Scott’s website.

Standing Tall

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 Magic Marks the Spot By Caroline Carlson along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Standing Tall

We all face adversity in our lives, and how we respond to it is part of what makes us, us! Write a story about a time when you were faced with a problem that you had to figure out how to solve, or create a story about a character battling adversity.

Do a little digging:

Stories like Caroline’s, where you’re writing about something fun and different, sometimes require a bit of research! Writing about pirates means you should know a thing or two about them. Try picking a writing topic that forces you to learn a bit about it before you can begin your story. This way, you get some fun new knowledge and a story out of it!

Submit your response HERE!

Magic Marks the Spot By Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas!

Interview with Caroline Carlson:

Q: Where did the idea for your story come from?

A: I get most of my ideas when the things I’m interested in collide in my brain and combine in new, strange or funny ways. I’ve always loved stories about pirates, stories about magic, stories that make me laugh, and stories filled with “documents” like letters and newspaper clippings. When I decided to see what would happen if I tried to put all of these different things I love in a book together, Magic Marks the Spot was the happy result.Magic Marks the Spot Final Cover

Q: What is your basic process for creating a character? 

A: I think my process is different for each character. Some characters, like the gargoyle in Magic Marks the Spot, pop into my head as though they’ve been there all along. Other characters take me weeks, months, or even years to get to know well. When I start writing the very first draft of a story, I like to decide what each character’s goals, dreams, and challenges are, because that helps me understand how that character might react in a particular situation. If I put all my characters in a room with a spider, for example, I need to know which of them would squash the spider, which would be afraid of it, which would ignore it, and which would eat it.

Q: What is the hardest part about writing for you?

A: Sometimes—okay, most of the time—looking at a blank page and knowing that you have to fill it with brilliant, clever words can be terrifying. What if you’re not smart enough? What if you can’t think of anything interesting to write about? What if you make a mistake? I have to face all these fears almost every day when I start to write. As soon as I’ve written a few sentences, though, I start to remember that writing is sometimes scary, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Q: How important was revising to your final product?

A: Really important! I used to hate revising. I’m the sort of person who likes to get everything exactly right the first time around, and I don’t like thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made. But I’ve learned that when you write a book, you are never going to get everything exactly right the first time around, and that’s absolutely fine. Revision makes a story stronger and more interesting. I ended up rewriting the last 100 pages of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT from scratch for my editor, and I used that round of revision to turn a very minor character (Hilary’s friend Charlie) into a much more important character. It was hard work, but I’m so glad I made that change! Charlie has become a fun, complicated character, and now I can’t imagine the book without him. I ended up revising the whole book at least four times in all—probably even more than that, but I lost count along the way.     

A Bit About Caroline Carlson:

“Unlike Hilary, I actually enjoy dancing and wearing fancy dresses. But both Hilary and I know what we want to do with our lives—she wants to be a fearsome scallywag, I want to be an author–and we wont let anyone else tell us we can’t do those things. We’re also both really good at treading water.” — Caroline Carlson

Caroline Carlson is the author of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, a series of funny and magical adventure stories for young readers. She lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amidst many stacks of books. You can visit her online at or find her on Facebook or Twitter. Her CarolineCarlsonadvice for young authors is, “If you know you want to be a writer, you’re probably already reading a lot and writing for school and maybe even for fun. But it’s also really important to pay attention to the other things you’re interested in, like sports, science, nature, art, current events, and even movies and TV shows. Go on adventures, explore the world around you, and learn as much as you can about whatever you think is cool, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with writing. All those things you learn will start mixing together in your imagination, and one day they’ll turn into a great idea for your next book.”

Caroline just finished a draft of the final book in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, and is beginning work on a story about a boy who works at his uncle’s detective agency. So be on the lookout for more wonderful stories!

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. The second book, THE TERROR OF THE SOUTHLANDS, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in September 2014, with a third book to follow in 2015.

Thanks Caroline Carlson!!

Magic Marks the Spot is available at Amazon!

Making Music

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 Summoning the Phoenix By Emily Jiang along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Making Music

If you could play any instrument in the world, what would it be? It can be something familiar, something from another culture, or an instrument you made up! Describe it and tell us why you chose it, or try writing a poem about it!

Submit your response HERE!


 Summoning the Phoenix By Emily JiangEmily Jiang- SummoningPhoenix-cover-small

      “Music is often called the universal language and its can transcend culture, gender, race. Anyone can learn to play at least one instrument. Anyone who can speak can sing.” — Emily Jiang

Every musician knows that learning to play an instrument has its challenges and its rewards. There’s the embarrassing first day of rehearsal, but also the joy of making friends in the orchestra. There’s dealing with slippery concert dress, or simply getting swept up in the music. The twelve children in this book are just like any other musicians practicing their instruments and preparing for a concert. But what sets these music lovers apart is that they all play traditional Chinese musical instruments in a Chinese orchestra. Including both flights of fancy and practical considerations, lively poems capture each child’s musical experience with a different Chinese instrument, while sidebars provide more information about each one. Vivid illustrations depicting each fascinating instrument bring you along on this musical journey. And then you are invited to the grand finale!

Interview with author Emily Jiang:

Q: What inspired you to write these poems?

A: In these thirteen poems, I wanted to capture the wide range of feelings that young musicians would have while preparing for a performance.

EmilyJiang-ART-RuanBoyQ: Do you have a favorite poem from your book? Why do you like it best?

A: I don’t have a favorite poem, since I like them all for different reasons. Some of them make me laugh. Some of them make me sigh, in a good way. However, this is the poem that I found the most elusive in revision and had to work the hardest to get just right. I had to literally rewrite it from scratch the most number of times, maybe six or seven, until finally I thought, ah, now this poem finally works. I felt this poem is my soul on a page, how I would feel if I played the ruan, also known as the moon guitar.


The form of the poem was the trickiest part, and matching up the face part of the ruan with the one-word line in each stanza was a challenge. Each stanza turns on that one-word line.

Q: How do you think music connects to writing? To poetry?

A: Music and literature are similar in that they are both art forms that require time. They both have beginnings, middles, and endings. They both use techniques of rhythm and repetition. Songs, stories, and poetry all require structure, sometimes rigid, sometimes loose, but structure must exist.

Q: What’s the hardest part about writing a poem and how do you suggest overcoming it?

EmilyJiang-ART-GuzhengGirlA: Writing a poem a poem is tricky because its canvas is so small and its words are so few compared to a short story or a novel. So every word in a poem must really count. A well-crafted song, story, or poem should evoke strongest emotion from its ideal audience and will forever change how one views the world. Sometimes a poem is a gift that practically writes itself with no need for revision. Most times a poem will require rewriting. When revising, consider cutting out words you think are not holding their weight, and if the poem remains essentially the same, that’s a good edit. Also, consider reading your poem aloud. If you are tripping over a word or line, that usually is a good indication that it need to be revised or cut. Don’t hesitate to cut out your favorite line if it makes your poem stronger. You can always add it to a new poem.

Emily’s Revising Advice!

“I’m constantly revising. There’s no such thing as a truly perfect poem, story, or novel. You can always change something, however small, to make it better.”

So what does she recommend?

“Write every day. Write with a voice that is uniquely your own. Write about what you love, what you fear, and what you think is fascinatingly weird. Learn something new, something that will make you experience the world with fresh eyes & fresh ears. Listen to lots of people who are different from you with an open heart. Read a wide range of stories, poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels, anything and everything that catches your fancy. Then write the story that you most want to read.”    

Thanks Emily Jiang!

Summoning the Phoenix is available at Amazon!

For more about author Emily Jiang and her books visit her website here.

Also, check out Emily Jiang’s article on “Summoning the Phoenix,” featured in The Big Idea series here!

Shine Bright

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 Junction of Sunshine and Lucky By Holly Schindler along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Shine Bright

In the Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, Auggie discovers her ‘shine’ in the sculptures her and Gus make. Think about all of the unique talents in the world – balancing quarters on your elbow, being able to make people laugh, befriending every animal you meet – and write a story about a character who discovers their own special shine! Schindler3

Submit your response HERE!

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky By Holly Schindler

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets Because of Winn Dixie in this inspiring story of hope.

In The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, Auggie Jones lives with her grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.”  But Auggie is determined to prove that there’s more to her—and to her house—than meets the eye. What starts out as a home renovation project quickly becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time.

Holly Schindler’s feel-good story about the power one voice can have will inspire readers to speak from their hearts.

Check out the book trailer here.

Interview with author Holly Schindler:

Q: When did you fall in love with writing?  

A: In some ways, it feels like I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always loved books—I had to have a new picture book each time I went to the supermarket with my mom! I was also painfully shy when I was younger—I used to cry at playgrounds because other kids were there, and I was afraid of talking to them. It was pretty Schindler2natural, I think, as such a shy kid, to gravitate toward writing, because it takes so much alone-time. I’m not nearly as shy as I used to be, but I still love my alone-time with my characters!

Q: What is the best part about writing for you?

A: Revision. I love revision; first drafts are pretty painful. I give myself enormous daily word-count deadlines, so I can get through the first draft as quickly as possible. When I’m revising, I can see my characters become full-fledged people. I think that’s how a book becomes a book, actually—by revising as many times as possible!

Q: What’s one thing that young writers can do right now to help build their writing skills?

A: Write every day. It’s that simple. Writing is just like playing sports or a musical instrument. You’ve got to practice, practice, practice to get good at it.

Writing Exercise:

Complements of Holly Schindler, here’s a writing exercise to try! 

“The absolute most crucial part of writing a novel, I think, has to do with getting to know your characters. If you know your character as well as you know yourself, your story will come to life! One of the best ways to get to know your main character is to write a journal.  Use everything that happened to you during the day, and imagine how your main character would have responded to or handled those events.

Some things to consider as you write in your journal:

– Does your character have a magical power?  If so, how would your character use it? For example: Let’s say you were standing in the lunch line when someone accidentally stepped on your toe. In your own life, you probably said, “Ooomph!” and the stepper (hopefully) apologized, and lunch went on as normal. But imagine that your character has the ability to blow gale force winds of 1000-mph when upset. By just saying, “Ooomph!”, your character has accidentally knocked over every table in the cafeteria, and the food from the lunch line is splattered all over the walls! Now what happens through the rest of lunch?

– Is your character from another time? How would a simple afternoon of going to the movies be different for a time-traveler from the 1800s?

– Maybe your character doesn’t have any superpowers, isn’t a time-traveler. Maybe they’re a fourth / fifth grader—a regular old Joe, like the rest of us. How does being shy change what happened in the cafeteria line scenario? How would the class clown respond to getting his (or her) toe stepped on? What if your character is an athlete, and wants to play in the big game, and is hiding the fact that her toe is broken? Would a whelp of pain expose the secret?

Schindler1It’s amazing what those character journals can do—they help you get to know your character like nothing else. Sometimes, though, your own daily events can also help you figure out some of the events of the book, too!”

Always keep in mind, revising is never easy, but like Holly Schindler says, “One of the best things a young writer can do is learn to love revision, and to appreciate comments from teachers or readers. Those comments aren’t meant to hurt your feelings; they’re meant to make your work better. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky was first drafted in ’05 as a picture book. It took multiple rewrites to turn it into a full-length novel, then several rounds of rewrites to land an agent, then several rounds of revision to find an editor and publishing house, then three more rounds of global revision—changing events and characters—at the publishing house before it went to copyediting!”

Revising is a lot of work, but it’s sure to pay off in the end!

Thanks Holly Schindler!

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is available at Amazon!

For more about author Holly Schindler and her books visit her website here.

Also, check out the next stop on her tour here, scheduled for March 18th!

World Citizen

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 Lara’s Gift By Annemarie O’Brien along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: World Citizen

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Write a story set in this place.

Try using this new word in your writing:

Do you know what the adjective obscure means? Obscure is a word meaning difficult to understand or unclear. For example: Mr. Gold’s lesson on grammar was very Borzoiobscure.

Submit your response HERE!

Lara’s Gift By Annemarie O’Brien

Travel around the world to Russia with Annemarie O’Brien’s new story, Lara’s GiftYoung Lara is being groomed in the family tradition to take over as Count Voronstov’s next kennel steward, breeding borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. But then Lara’s baby brother is born and she finds herself supplanted as her father decides to make her brother the next kennel steward. Going against her father’s wishes and becoming increasingly sure of her special gift of understanding these incredible dogs, Lara risks everything when she reveals the truth about her visions. Now she must save Zar, her favorite borzoi and the one she raised from birth, from a hungry pack of wolves. Only then can she find her own, extraordinary destiny.

Check out the book trailer here!

Interview with author Annemarie O’Brien:


Q: You lived in Russia for some years. What was that like and in what way did it inspire you to write Lara’s Gift?

A: Russia is a magical place. It is rich in music, literature, the arts, science, and history. My first visit was during the cold war when the United States and the former Soviet Union were at odds politically, socially, and economically. And while our governments didn’t see eye-to-eye, I found that I connected with Lara'sgiftcoverRussians easily. I couldn’t understand why our countries were “at war” on so many issues when the people I met were warm, welcoming, and highly intellectual.  Living and working there forced me to open up my mind and question so many things. Especially since many of my family and friends had funny notions of what Russia was all about. I wanted to change those kinds of perceptions and felt that Lara and Zar’s story needed to be told to show another face of Russia.

I consider myself a citizen of the world now and can find a piece of home in many of the countries where I have lived, as well as in those countries where I have friends or have spent a good chunk of time. My work abroad has taken me around the world from neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico to places as far away as Thailand and China.

Q: Is there a theme in the book that especially excites and interests you?

A:Yes. One theme in particular mirrors something my father instilled in me as a kid. He always told me that I could do whatever I wanted, if I put my mind to it. He also told me to follow my heart, and I would find happiness, and he urged me to trust in the gifts  I have. So if there’s one thing I hope my readers walk away with after reading LARA’S GIFT, it would be a newfound sense in themselves to pursue life following their hearts and passions.

Q: What made you want to be a storyteller? Who inspired you?

A: As a kid I enjoyed reading stories about dogs and/or characters living in other countries. The cultural differences between the world in which I lived and the ones these characters lived in was fascinating to me and helped me have a wider outlook on the world beyond my little world. Sadly, this type of “world” book was hard to find when I was young. So I felt there was a need for books that introduced readers to new worlds, and this is one of the big reasons I write the kind of stories I write. It’s also why I set up World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who have written a story set overseas. The more kids step out of their comfort zone and explore the world beyond their own, I do believe the world will become more open, understanding, and tolerant of other cultures and the things they hold important.

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers? 


  • Try to write every day.
  • Tag the things you like and try to refer back to them when you hit a brick wall.
  • Take as many writing classes as you can!
  • Attend workshops.
  • Follow your favorite writer’s blogs and reach out to them if you like their work. 
  • Don’t take constructive criticism personally. 
  • Never give up! Stay the course, because persistence will pay off if you follow your heart.

Thanks Annemarie O’Brien!

Lara’s Gift is available at Amazon!

For more about author Annemarie O’Brien and her books visit her website here.

Big Voices


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 Big Rig by Jamie Swenson along with an author interview! 

Writing Challenge: Vehicle Voices

Frankie is a Big Rig with an even bigger attitude. Her voice reflects who she is through sentence length and vocabulary as she makes her deliveries. Choose another type of vehicle and write a short story in that voice – what does a cement mixer sound like? What about a limousine?

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

  Big Rig by Jamie Swenson. Illustrated by Ned Young

Come along for the ride as Frankie the big rig truck takes us on the job, driving past kiddie cars (school buses) and land yachts (RVs). Hear the horn blow and the wipers schwat the windshield clean. But, BANG! SHHUUU! Uh-oh: a blow-out! Don’t worry, a service truck saves the day so we can get the job done and make a very special delivery.

An interview with author, Jamie Swenson

1. When did you fall in love with writing? When did it happen.

Big Rig Cover

I started writing stories in my head when I was in sixth grade – I had a long walk home from school and spent many days creating stories to go with the houses I walked past. These stories would grow in my head day after day – until I almost couldn’t wait for the walk home to find out what would happen next! Later, I started writing short plays for my friends. When I was in high school I took a creative writing class and I was hooked. While I’ve always loved making up stories and writing – I never considered it as a career until I was thirty! I feel blessed to have the opportunity share my stories with kids and families.

2. How did the idea for this book show up? Share the story of how the idea developed into a book.

When you’re a writer – ideas are everywhere. They show up out of the blue, and if you’re lucky, you write the idea down before it slips away. The idea for Big Rig came to me in this way. I’m an assistant librarian/storyteller at my local library. One day during storytime we were reading a book where the kids had to guess the type of truck I was describing. One little boy yelled out, “I’m a Big Rig!” It made everyone laugh. That sentence stuck with me for days. It just kept popping up until suddenly it changed to, “Howdy. Name’s Frankie. I’m a Big Rig. Proud to meet you.” BAM! The rest of the book rolled out – although I had to do quite a bit of research about big rigs to find out the correct lingo and what it was really like to drive a big rig. Thankfully, Frankie’s voice was loud and clear in my head – and it’s such a fun voice that I couldn’t help writing her story.

Jamie Swenson

3. How do you go about revising your work?

For me, revision is the fun part and involves a lot of reading aloud. Whether I’m writing a picture book or a middle grade novel, I find reading the work out loud helps me decided where I need to change words, tighten the text, or expand. It really helps to have a friend read your work aloud to you. I also like to print out my writing – not just revise on the computer. There is something very satisfying about printing out your words and then taking a red pen and having at it! For me, I think of the work differently when it’s printed out — it’s also a bit easier for me to see any problems – such as typos, repeated words, or mistakes.

4. What’s one thing that young writers can do right now to help build their writing skills?

The very best thing you can do to improve your writing skills when you’re young is to read, read, read. The next thing you can do is to allow yourself to be bored once and a while. These days, our brains are so engaged with technology that we forget to give ourselves time to just sit and think (or just walk and think). Stories are everywhere – but if you don’t give yourself enough room for creative imagining – it just won’t happen. You’ll fill your head with everyone else’s thoughts and there won’t be enough room for your own! So, my advice would be turn off the technology and just imagine. You’ll be amazed at all the stories you’ll find inside yourself!



BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! ill. David Walker (FS&G 2013)
BIG RIG ill. Ned Young (Disney-Hyperion 2014)
IF YOU WERE A DOG ill. Chris Rascka (FS&G 2014)

Visit the author’s website here

Learn more about the book and pre-order it here

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!

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