Notes from the Revision Cave–January

This year for newsletter subscribers, I’m sharing about my process as I work on my next middle-grade mystery. I’ll repost here on my blog a few weeks after they appear in the newsletter, but if you want to follow my writing process closer to real-time, or you don’t want to miss out on my monthly Book Love giveaways, or you want to be the first to hear Book Scavengerupdates and other bookish fun, then make sure to subscribe. Tomorrow I’ll be sending out a new one with the latest!


Guess what? My next middle-grade mystery project is back on my desk! I recently received my editor’s revision letter. This means my editor read the book and wrote up her notes on what she thinks is working well in the story, and what is not quite there yet. Every time I receive an editorial letter, I go through these same stages:


Even though this is the fourth book I’ve worked on with my editor, her letters always prompt a “pinch me” moment that I’m doing this thing I love and building a career as a children’s book author. I love working with my editor and value her insight, so I’m eager to hear her thoughts.


I typically read the letter multiple times. The first read is always quick. I’m gobbling up everything she has to say. In this most recent letter, the comments were mainly focused on creating a better mystery and deepening the characterizations. Neither of those things were a surprise to me—I think I even sent the manuscript with a note along the lines of, “I know the mystery needs work and I want to do more with certain character elements, but I’d love your thoughts on where the story is now.”

After my first read through of the editorial letter, I read again, slowly. Usually with a pencil to jot down ideas that come to mind and questions I have. I also highlight anything that resonates as something I want to remember when I’m working on my revision.


This stage takes me awhile. My editor and I have a phone call and talk out different ideas. I also bounce thoughts off my agent and my writing groups and my mom and my husband and my son and my pets and my houseplants and my dentist and . . .

I scribble thoughts in a notebook and type more thoughts in a Word file and write more ideas on sticky notes and then go back to the notebook.

As I move through this processing stage, certain ideas stand out as better than others. What makes an idea seem “better” is going to depend on your story goals. If I get the idea to add in a tap-dancing goldfish character, this might not be a good idea if I’m trying to write a serious and scary book. But if I’m wanting to write a silly and fanciful story about pursuing dreams that seem out of reach, then . . . maybe? The questions I ask myself are: Does this idea align with the story I want to tell? How does it serve the story? Am I excited by the thought of writing it? If my answer to that last question is no, then I ask myself why. Sometimes I’m not excited to write an idea because it feels like it will be a lot of work or I’m intimidated by it. Those aren’t good reasons to discard it.

The processing stage is also when my doubts and worries creep in. My feelings about the book go on a roller coaster ride: These ideas are exciting! This is going to be the best book I’ve ever written! No, no—they’re horrible. I’m never going to figure out how to make this story work. 

But have no fear! I have a secret weapon to tame those wild thoughts! My secret weapon is:


Okay, it’s not a flashy, but it’s effective.

As I’m working through my thoughts on what the story needs, I make a rough outline of the new version that begins to form. I’m also making a list of what I need to research and think on more. I’m not trying to work out every detail; I’m only building a scaffolding that will help me get started. At some point in the organizing, the new version of the story begins to come alive in my imagination. I’m able to turn down the volume on that emotional roller coaster and concentrate instead on my characters. That’s when I know I’m ready to . . .


This is the hard part. The actual writing! I’ll share more about that in my next newsletter. If you have questions for me about my process, please let me know! They’ll help me understand what you’re interested in hearing about.


(This originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of my newsletter. You can subscribe here for more.)

Fun Bookish Things To Do In January!

Did you know there are lots of fun book events available to you every month? Especially right now, when most everything is offered virtually, so you can attend no matter where you live. And many, if not most, are free. Independent bookstores, libraries, and other organizations host authors and illustrators throughout the year, usually timed with the publication of a new book. Purchasing a book from the event host to support the store and the creators is always appreciated, but not typically required to attend.

I’m going to spotlight a handful of upcoming middle-grade book events that caught my eye for this month and early next, but you can find more by visiting bookstore, library, author, and illustrator websites and looking at their calendar of events. Subscribing to newsletters is a great way to hear about them too!


JANUARY 12: At Book Bar, Denver, CO:  Alone by Megan E. Freeman 

JANUARY 12: At Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX: The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas by Kimberly Willis Holt

JANUARY 12: At Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, NC: Halfway to Harmony by Barbara O’Connor, in conversation with Amy Cherrix 

JANUARY 12: Link to Libraries Presents: Grace Lin and Shannon Hale in Conversation  

JANUARY 13: At Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA: Clues to the Universe by Christina Li, in conversation with Erin Entrada Kelly 

JANUARY 15: At Anderson’s Bookshop, Chicago, IL: Lion of Mars by Jennifer Holm


JANUARY 26: SCBWI Carolina’s Virtual Book Launch for Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles  Pre-order the book from Park Road Books here:


FEBRUARY 2: At Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA: Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca, in conversation with Kate Messner 

FEBRUARY 2: At Books Inc., San Francisco Bay Area, CA: Hilo Book 7: Gina the Girl Who Broke the World by Judd Winick 



December Book Love and a Giveaway

If you’ve read Book Scavenger, it probably comes as no surprise that I love all things books (especially children’s books!) In an effort to support independent booksellers, spread some book love, and have some fun, I’ve decided to do a giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. Every newsletter will feature a different independent bookstore and a few book recommendations. There will be a simple challenge to complete, and everyone who participates is entered to win the book of their choice. I’ll order the book from the featured bookstore and have it shipped direct to you. (At this time, only United States addresses will be eligible to win as shipping costs are currently too high outside the US. I’m sorry!)

This month I’m spotlighting Second Star to the Right in Denver, Colorado. This is a wonderful, wonderful children’s bookstore. Check them out if you’re in the Denver area. I subscribe to their newsletter and love hearing their book recommendations and keeping track of their upcoming Storytime events and author visits. (All virtual right now, so you can attend no matter where you live!) In fact, they are hosting a murder mystery party with Fleur Bradley, author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, on  December 31!

Here are the books I’m recommending this month (click on the titles to purchase the books and support Second Star to the Right).


The Old Truck written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey When is an old truck something more? On a small, bustling farm, a resilient and steadfast pickup works tirelessly alongside the family that lives there, and becomes a part of the dreams and ambitions of the family’s young daughter. I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved books with a farm setting, and something about the nostalgic look of this art and the simple and spare story hits all the right notes for me.

Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy by Tara Dairman and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan Extreme weather affects two children’s lives in very different ways and shows how the power of nature can bring us together. A beautiful, beautiful book.

The Fort by Laura Perdew and illustrated by Adelina Lirius A fort in the woods is imagined to be a castle by one child and a pirate ship by another. But when they meet up, uh-oh! It’s a battle of their imaginations. I love this one, and the book jacket is one of the coolest I’ve seen!

Hugsby written and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk The most adorable pet monster shows what everyone needs: hugs! Such a sweet book.


Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright A new graphic novel series about twin sisters and best friends, but their friendship gets challenged as some things change when they start sixth grade.

Every Missing Piece by Melanie Conklin This book is described as “for fans of Rebecca Stead and Erin Entrada Kelly,” two of my favorites. Yes, please!

The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray A whodunit mystery that incorporates history and is compared to books by Gennifer Choldenko, E.L. Konigsburg, and Ellen Raskin. This sounds right up my alley!

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat by Johnny Marciano and Emily Chenoweth My son and I have read this whole series and can’t wait for the sixth book. Very funny, but may prompt your kitten to act like an evil alien warlord cat.

Happy reading!

Updated December 28, 2020: The winners of my December newsletter giveaway have been notified. If you didn’t win a book this time, keep an eye out for the next newsletter and giveaway! You can subscribe to my author newsletter, by entering your email address on the bottom of this website or the Book Scavenger website. (You only need to sign up once–it’s the same newsletter.)



Author Fan Face-Off: Book Scavenger!

How well would you do competing against an author in a trivia contest about their own book? You can find out by watching the Author Fan Face-Off web series game show, hosted by author Steve Sheinkin and school librarian Stacey Rattner! Check out Episode #25, which features me as the guest author, challenged by Jonathan, a Book Scavenger fan and very worthy opponent.

September Book Love and Giveaway

In an effort to support independent booksellers and spread some book love, I’ve decided to do a fun giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. Every newsletter will feature a different independent bookstore and a few books I think Book Scavenger readers might enjoy. There will be a simple challenge to complete (the challenge for September is making up a caption for a funny photo of one of my cats), and everyone who participates is entered to win a book of their choice from my selection. I’ll order the book for the winner from the featured bookstore and have it shipped direct to you. (At this time, only United States addresses will be eligible to win as shipping costs are currently too high outside the US. I’m sorry!)

This month, the bookstore I’m spotlighting is Book People in Austin, TX. Book People is an amazing multistoried store, the kind of space I could easily spend hours browsing. I was lucky enough to visit Book People twice on my book tours. (That’s me in the photo below–they had those cutouts for an event for The Legend of Rock, Paper, and Scissors by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex, a book that my son and I love reading aloud, so I had to take a picture for him.)

Here are the books I’m recommending this month (click on the titles to learn more about them or purchase through Book People):

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. I was blown away by this book! My favorite read of the year. Just read it. It’s amazing.

Keep it Together, Keiko Carter! by Debbi Michiko Florence. This one is next up on my To Read pile and I can’t wait! Three friends are starting 7th grade with big goals for themselves, but some drama comes into play and soon Keiko’s best friends aren’t talking and she’s caught in the middle.

The Vanderbeekers: Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser. The fourth Vanderbeekers is here!! I love this family and their many pets and reading about their adventures living in Harlem.

The Artifact Hunters by Janet Fox. This one is great for readers who like their stories a little scary. It’s suspenseful and beautifully blends fantasy into a realistic World War II setting. This is also a follow-up to the novel Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, but I don’t feel like you need to read the books in order. (But definitely read Charmed Children, too, if you like spooky stories. It’s goooood.)

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.  If you like the way my Book Scavenger series incorporates historical nuggets into an adventurous story, then I’d definitely check this one out. Funny moments, fast-paced–a great read.

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley. A very fun, well-paced mystery that reminded me a lot of my favorite board game Clue! Loved it.

Sound like fun? I hope so! If you are not already a newsletter subscriber, you can sign up here and look for my next newsletter to arrive in October.

Of course you don’t have to enter the giveaway or subscribe to my newsletter, but I do hope you’ll check out these wonderful books by borrowing them from your library or purchasing them from Book People or anywhere books are sold.