Notes from the Revision Cave–February

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 Scavenger updates and other bookish fun, then make sure to subscribe. I’ll be sending out a new one with the latest soon!


One of the tricky things with a revision, at least for me, is letting go of my attachments to what I wrote before. When I read my most recent draft, I’m not only seeing the story on the page but also the story behind the page. I see the chapter I rewrote ten times trying to get it just right, the joke that cracked up my writing group, the scene inspired by a funny thing my husband said. It’s hard to strip away the personal meaning and only consider how something is functioning in the story. But you as the reader do not have access to what is personally meaningful to me. You only have access to what is on the page. So, everything on the page needs to serve you, not my memories.

As I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing it’s not unlike looking at a disorganized closet. You might have the vision for how you want it to look. You might even know the problem is you have too many sweaters. But when you sit down with your stuff, the decisions of what should stay and what should go, and the order everything should be put in, aren’t always easy. This sweater is so soft and comfy, but also incredibly unflattering. You paid too much money for that sweater so you’d feel guilty if you parted with it, even though you never wear it because it’s itchy. The too-small sweater was a gift from a loved one, so letting go of it feels like letting go of them. Even when you’ve pared it down to your essentials, there can still be questions of order. Do you fold them? Hang them? Sort them by color, or sleeve length, or season, or casual/dressy? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to these questions. And that’s how it is with writing a novel, too. You are in charge, and you get to make the decisions. But what happens when you’re frozen by indecision?

My most recent draft and notes for the revision. Coco’s advice for feeling overwhelmed? “Take a nap.” (This is also her advice no matter your problem.)

Running with the closet metaphor, I’ve heard a number of organizing experts stress the importance of pulling all your clothes out of the closet and going through them one-by-one in a different setting. This is essentially the approach I currently take with my revisions. I started doing this out of necessity when I was writing The Unbreakable Code on a tight deadline. I felt so overwhelmed looking at all the stuff I was trying to cram in the closet. Eventually, I stopped working within the old draft, and instead wrote a summary of the new version of the story that was mainly in my head. From there I opened a new document and typed a rough outline of what happened. And that’s what I worked from, the new outline, not the old draft.

This has been my approach with my current book too. I focus on a chunk of chapters at a time, usually up until a turning point in the story. With the first chunk, I make a very basic outline of what happens. If it involves a scene that was in the old draft, then I open up the old file, find the scene, and copy-and-paste it into the new file. Then I start from the beginning, writing new material where nothing existed before and revising what did exist so it fits in with the new version. Sometimes I realize something else from the old draft can be adapted to work somewhere, and I’ll go back to the old file and copy and paste again. Sometimes the only thing that stays from an old scene is the dialogue, or a few lines of description. Sometimes the entire scene works essentially as it was written. Doing it this way helps me keep my focus forward, and fixed on the book I want to create, not the draft I already wrote.

Every writer is unique and what works for one person might not work well for someone else. And what works for one book might not work for the next. This is my approach right now, but it might not be my approach for the next book. That’s one of the best things about doing creative work—the rules are flexible. We can play with our process and change it up as we go along.

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.