Sunday, November 10, 2013

Outlaws and Friends and the Inside Story

LAST WEEK I was over at Alamosa Books for the Inside Story, an international event bringing local authors to bookstores all around the world.

Above is author, Lois Ruby, talking about her latest ghost story, Rebel Spirits. To her right is Kimberley Griffiths Little, Uma Krishnaswami, Me, and Lauren Bjorkman.

And here am I, talking about my latest ghost story, Forget Me Not. I'm sharing the poster featuring my favorite poem from the book... a 2Pac - Poe mash up.

After the event I had a chance to catch up with another local author, Vaunda Michaeux Nelson, standing to my left.

Speaking of Vaunda, THIS WEEK I'm over at The Spellbinders Blog with my analysis of her book, Bad News for Outlaws. I've used my twelve step story system to discuss the plot of the book. It's a Coretta Scott King Award winner.

NEXT WEEK Vaunda and I will be giving a plotting presentation for NaNoWriMo on Saturday, November 16 at 2:00p.m. at Esther Bone Library in Rio Rancho. It's free and it's open to the public, so come on down!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

FREE eBook Version of Tyger Tyger

Go to the Haunted Hearts post over at Spellbinders to read the November feature article by author, Kersten Hamilton, and find out  how to get a free eBook version of the critically acclaimed Tyger Tyger. This offer is available through the iTunes store through November 5!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stop #2 of the FIERCE READS TOUR

 Wednesday afternoon Kimberley Griffiths Little (far left) and Caroline Starr Rose (far left) hosted a dynamic panel of authors at Alamosa Books for the Fierce Reads Tour. (Left to right - Jessica Brody - author of Unremembered, Leigh Bardugo - author of Siege and Storm, Gennifer Albin - author of Altered, and Ann Aguirre, author of Horde).

Authors shared their thoughts on writing books as a part of a series vs. creating stand alone stories. Gennifer Albin told how she wrote the first draft of her first novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Her husband had lost his job, they had gone bankrupt, and she used the computer in the library to create her story because she didn't have a computer of her own. She rewrote and polished her story to perfection, of course, but it all started with that NaNoWriMo first draft. Selling the Crewel World series to Macmillan Publishing changed the course of her life. She continues to promote NaNoWriMo.

That should serve as inspiration for everyone taking part in this November's challenge which starts tomorrow!! To find out more about this terrific FREE online writing event, visit

There will be a special interview with the Fierce Reads authors in the December 2 issue of Spellbinders. Stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, go on over to Alamosa. There are still plenty of autographed copies of these amazing books.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cyber Bullying

This month I'm over at The Anti-Bully Project with a contest to win a free copy of Forget Me Not.
Here is an excerpt from my article...
A student breaks out in tears in the middle of class, talking out loud to someone who isn’t there. Psychotic break? No, his girlfriend just sent him a text saying she’s breaking up with him. The teacher doesn’t even know he’s texting until she sees the phone, carefully concealed between his lap and his desk.
A mother is driving home from the grocery store with her teenage daughter when the girl’s eyes grow wide in panic. One of her classmates is in ICU with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident.
She read the post on Twitter.
A twelve-year-old girl in Florida jumps to her death after being stalked and bullied on social media. (
Technology has changed the way people communicate, the way they get information, and the way they bully.
According to an article in the online magazine, Time U.S.( experts link the rising suicide rate among young adults (those under 24) to bullying via social media.
To see the rest of the article and enter the rafflecopter contest, visit The Anti-Bully Project.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

THE INSIDE STORY - Local Authors at Alamosa Books

Saturday, November 2 at 2:00 at Alamosa Books - Five New Mexico authors will be taking part in an international SCBWI event called The Inside Story.

Each author will talk for 7 minutes about the "Inside Story" behind his or her book -the inspiration - the people and circumstances that influenced the story. An audience Q & A will follow. There will be prizes, a chance to win an author phone call, and an opportunity to be in Lin Oliver's next book!

The Alamosa Authors are:

Uma Krishnaswami - The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic (Atheneum Books) ages 8 and up
The delicious sequel to the multiply starred The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, BFFs Dini and Maddie continue their dizzying journey to bring order to the chaotic life of the starriest star in all of Bollywood, Dolly Singh.

Lois Ruby - Rebel Spirits  (Scholastic) ages 10-15
A contemporary girl falls in love with the ghost of a Gettysburg Battle soldier. Nathaniel died during that battle, but not from enemy fire: he was murdered! And now, as they fall in love, he wants Lori to help him solve the mystery so his spirit can rest in peace. 

Lauren Bjorkman - Miss Fortune Cookie (Holt) ages 12 and up
Erin expresses her true self through her advice blog, Miss Fortune Cookie, until her ex-best friend takes her advice with disastrous results. Fate will come looking for you. Don't bother hiding.

Carolee Dean - Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse)  ages 14 and up
A verse novel exploring cyber bullying and teen suicide at a school where the dead never leave, but rather gravitate to locations around the school based on how they died - reminiscent of Dante's Purgatory.

Kimberley Griffiths Little - When the Butterflies Came (Scholastic) 8 -12
When dazzling butterflies begin to follow Tara around after Grammy Claires funeral and she's delivered a box of keys and letters, Tara knows that her grandmother has left her a final mystery to solve. On the beautiful islands of Chuuk, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 2 pm
Alamosa Books
    8810 Holly Ave. NE, Ste. D
   Albuquerque, NM 87122
   (505) 797-7101

For more information about The Inside Story, see the article in Publishers Weekly.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lisa McMann and THE UNWANTEDS at Alamosa Books

 Lisa McMann spoke at Alamosa Books last Tuesday, September 10, as part of her tour for The Unwanteds: Island of Fire, the Third book in The Unwanteds series published by Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Also available were the books from her Wake Trilogy, a haunting series for older teens published by Simon Pulse (also my publisher - yay!). Alamosa created a beautiful display of Lisa's books.

Lisa told the Alamosa audience that The Unwanteds is special to her because it was inspired by an experience with her own children. They came home one day with a letter from school saying the arts classes were going to be eliminated because of budget constraints. This was devastating news to her highly artistic children. She told them, "It sounds like you kids are being punished for being creative." That comment started a line of What If questions that led to The Unwanteds and the world of Quill where crazy rules, built up over time, prohibit any sort of artistic expression.

In Quill, thirteen-year-olds are placed into three categories: Wanteds go to college and have the chance at an education, Necessaries are trained to serve in menial jobs, and Unwanteds, those deemed dangerous because of their artistic tendencies, are sent to a death farm. Fortunately, the man who is supposed to be putting kids to death has secretly been saving them and training them in his own magical world.

Lisa talked about the creative process and reminded us that if you are creating a magical world you must have a lot of rules for governing that world. Her kids had a great time helping her come up with the rules for the spells in The Unwanteds books.

One of the highlights of Lisa's talk was when she shared how she got started as a writer and her inspiration for the Wake Trilogy. She had won a short story contest and it provided her enough money so she didn't feel pressured to find a job when her family moved to Arizona. She decided to take the time to write a novel, but it wasn't as easy as she thought. Finally, after a year and a half and no book on the horizon, she immersed herself in movies, going to the theater five times in one week. Then she reread books she used to love to read. A piece in one of the movies gave her the idea for her first novel which she wrote in three months. She then spent another three months revising it.

She didn't sell that book or the second book either, but one night she had a dream about being able to see inside her husband dreams. That's when she envisioned Janie, a seventeen-year-old girl who gets sucked into other people's nightmares against her will. Lisa worked feverishly, eighteen hours a day for seven days, until she completed the rough draft for Wake. She said this isn't hard to do if you have the entire story in your head, especially if the story is short. Wake is about 40,000 words.

I'm not so sure I agree. I would have a hard time sitting that long without some serious yoga. Lisa said after completing that quick first draft, she spent another two months rewriting the story. She found an agent fairly quickly who introduced her to the wonderful team at Simon Pulse.

Lisa's experiences were inspirational and informative. Many of the audience members were from our local SCBWI chapter. Lisa was gracious enough to pose with the other authors for the photo below. Oh, and it looks like somebody's granddaughter sneaked inside the photo, too. Perhaps she's an author in training?

Friday, September 13, 2013

The People You Meet Along the Way

Miss May survived hurricane Sandy, but the first floor of her home was uninhabitable. This is what her living room looked like when our work crew showed up to tear out the remaining walls and put up dry wall this past July. The week prior another group had come through to put in the sub-flooring.

You would never guess from the exterior that the first floor was in such poor condition. Miss May gave us permission to take photos of the house, but did not want to be in the pictures herself. She was a truly inspirational woman. A retired nurse, she said she had lived in this house on Long Beach, New York for over sixty years. Although the hurricane was last October, she had only just returned home the week before we arrived. When this photo was taken, she was staying on the second floor while the first floor was renovated.

Miss May had been living with her nephew ever since Superstorm Sandy destroyed much of her home. She walked with a cane and got around pretty slowly, but her mind was as sharp as ever. She had wanted return when the waters receded, but her nephew was worried about her safety. He was so concerned he took down the stair railings so she wouldn't be tempted to go back, but while he was out of town she moved back anyway.

We were in Long Island with Next Step, a faith based group that organizes work project like this all over the world. See my August 6 post for more details. The people you meet along life's journey are truly remarkable. Each one is full of stories.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hurricane House

Appearances can be deceptive. I've always known that, but often I forget. I was reminded of just how inaccurate perceptions can be when I traveled to Long Beach, New York earlier this summer. The beach town is located off of Long Island's South Shore and surrounded by Reynold's Channel to the north, east and west. It's stunning beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean to the south.

A cursory drive through the streets would give the impression that this is a sleepy little beach town with quaint little houses where people from the city take the train or bus in for day trips to the beach on the weekend. Although that's still true, what one doesn't realize at first pass is that many of the houses are empty.
Some have even been condemned, but you wouldn't know it unless you got close enough to see a red X drawn on the window.

Superstorm Sandy raged across New York's eastern seaboard nine months ago, but the devastation it left behind is still painfully evident in the lives of Long Beach residents. Many of them are still living with family members, making due in small apartments, or squeezing their belongings into the second floor of their home while tearing out the ground floor and replacing dry wall still wet from last October's storm. These are not the second homes of the rich who live and work elsewhere. Most of the residents of Long Island are working class folks, just like the rest of us.

I was in Long Beach chaperoning my daughter's youth group who was there with Next Step helping to rehab houses damaged in the storm. Next Step is a faith based organization that sets up long term construction and service projects all around the world. Various groups come to a location for a week of service. Our group ripped out damaged interiors and put up dry wall. The group coming after us will mud the dry wall. The group that came before us put in a new sub floor. Construction continues like that until the project is completed, with kids painting, hanging siding, putting in laminate and basically just showing up to be of service.

We slept on the floor of a church that we were also helping to rehab. It was quite a process just to get all the kids fed and showered. I never knew there was such a thing as shower trailers. Now I have first hand experience.

During our orientation the Next Step Staff (all young people themselves, mostly college students and recent graduates) told us that we weren't just helping rebuild houses, we were helping to bring hope to a struggling community.

I tried to do my share to rebuild the local economy by going out with my new friend (fellow parent and chaperon, Chrissy) to buy coffee at a local sandwich shop just off the beach called Paninis and Bikinis. We were touched by the warm and excited reception the staff gave us at 6:45 in the morning. One of the girl's said, "You are our first customers." I thought Well that's nice. I wonder if that's their typical morning greeting.  Then she clarified by saying, "You are our first customers since the storm." They had just reopened the sandwich shop that very day!!  As you can see, there was still paper in the new windows. I was so excited I came back at lunch to buy our little work crew sandwiches and salads.

There were several things the Long Beach experience taught me. First of all, you don't know when a simple gesture like buying coffee might bring hope to someone. Second, houses are like people. Sometimes they look perfectly fine on the outside, but inside they are crumbling. I try to remember that when I'm tempted to think that other people are more successful, lucky, happy, etc. than I am. I never really know what's going on inside.

Stay tuned next week when I report on the story of Miss May, one of the wonderful Long Beach residents I got to know while I was there.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

ALA Chicago Highlights

I went to the American Library Association (ALA) Conference for the first time June 29-30th and it was a truly magical, amazing, and
overwhelming event. I could have spent a week just hanging out in the Exhibit Hall. I got to catch up with old friends like Esther Hershenhorn - author, Chicago resident, and fellow panelist at the IRA Conference in April of 2012.

I also got to meet one of my favorite writers of all time, Laurie Halse Anderson. She is as warm and wonderful as she is talented. Laurie is most well known for her riveting novel, Speak, a Printz Honor book which many of my students have read, but she's also written some wonderful historical novels. I picked up Chains, which won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. It was also a National Book Award Finalist. I also got the sequel, Forge. I'm looking forward to sharing both of these with my students this school year.

In addition to hanging out in the exhibit hall with authors, I attended the Coffee Klatch on Sunday morning. It's like Speed Dating with librarians. Thirty-eight authors, myself included, went from table to table speaking with young adult librarians about our books. Each table had about eight librarians and when the bell rang, the authors moved to a different table. It was exhausting and invigorating and I nearly lost my voice afterward, but so much fun!

The biggest highlight of the conference was getting to see Vaunda Micheaux Nelson at her book signing. Here she is with the Coretta Scott King Honor she received for No Crystal Stair. It's a documentary novel of the life and work of her uncle, Lewis Michaux, a Harlem bookseller in the tumultous 60s. Vaunda works as a librarian at the public library in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It's the same city where I'm a speech-language pathologist. She and I led author panel discussions at both high schools last fall about book research. We also talked about our experiences at the YALSA SYMPOSIUM in St. Louis last November.

I'm already marking my calendar for ALA 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stories All Around Us - The International Folk Festival in Santa Fe

I visited the International Folk Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico this weekend (July 13-14). One-hundred and fifty artisans from over fifty countries converged on Museum Hill. There were textiles, jewelry, clothing, pottery and more.

The group above is Ihhashi Elimhlophe performing Zulu music from South Africa. They did enough gymnastics onstage to qualify for the Olympics. They were amazing. They're even on Facebook (though I can't seem to find them now:)

The man above is creating a yarn painting. He starts with a thin piece of ply board, covers it in beeswax, then uses a metal stylus to poke the yarn into the wood to create a variety of designs. Each one has a symbolic meaning. His son described the process and also told me about their tribe in Mexico. They pre-dated the Aztecs and were one of the last of the indigenous groups to hold out against the Spaniards.

Every piece of art at the entire festival held a story. so did the fascinating people who created it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

REBEL SPIRITS at Gettysburg

Author Lois Ruby celebrated the release of her latest ghost story, REBEL SPIRITS, on July 3 at Alamosa Books. If you live in or near Albuquerque and you have not visited Alamosa, get yourself on over there. It is the only independent bookstore in town focusing primarily on children's literature. Alamosa is located at 8810 Holly Ave. Suite D (Next to Bahama Bucks). If they don't have the book  you want, they will order it and teacher's get a 20% discount!!

 July 3 was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Lois even brought a woman civil war re-enactor. Over 500 women and girls served in the Civil War disguised as young men. There was a great slide show and treats - including hard tack that Lois made herself, but we were all warned not to try it without soaking it first - or else we might break a tooth. Good luck on your new book, Lois!!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Stories Written in Gum

There are stories everywhere and some of them are written in gum.

I took a recent trip to Seattle, Washington with my teenage daughter to see my brother and sister-in-law and we visited the legendary Pike Place Market with the piles of fresh salmon on ice, fruits and veggies, crafts people, and bakeries.

Wandering among the vendors, we spotted the bay below and the Seattle Aquarium a couple of blocks away. There was not a clear path from the market to the aquarium and we soon found ourselves winding down stairways and alleys.

That's where we saw the sign for the GUM WALL. I didn't remember seeing that one in the travel brochure. The name describes it all, it is a wall (actually about four walls) completely covered in gum. It's the sort of place that makes you instantly want to do something ridiculous.

After a few silly poses, we started asking questions. How does something like this get started? Was there a sudden plot to decorate the wall in gum or did little blobs of Juicy Fruit just accumulate over time?

As we walked a little farther we saw notes written in gum. There was an invitation to the prom and a proposal of marriage. Instantly stories started developing in my writer's brain. Who created the prom invitation? What was the response?

Did the same couple return years later with one proposing marriage or was it a different duo? 

I imagined a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy where her high school sweetheart asks her to the prom in gum. They have a fight and go their separate ways, her to become an undercover FBI agent in a beauty pageant, and him to live his life as a fishmonger so he can stay near the Gum Wall and think about his lost love. Years later when her fiance, a Wall Street tycoon, wants to propose, he makes the mistake of writing his message in gum, making Sandra recall her tender romance with the fishmonger who is selling his fresh salmon right next door at Pike Place Market.

Sandra finds the fishmonger and they marry, of course, and the other guy just tries to ruin everyone's fun by putting up this pointless sign.

Hmm. I wonder if other writers plot like this while on vacation. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My New York/Chicago Pack List

I'm on my way to the Rockaways in New York to chaperone my daughter's youth group as they particpate in the Next Step Program to help rebuild houses on Long Island that were damaged during hurricane Sandy. They say we get to use shower trailers. I must work that into a story.

When I leave the Rockaways, I'm heading straight to ALA in Chicago (and a real shower and bed at the Hilton). Consequently, I've got a pretty diverse packing list: hammer, high heels, safety goggles, blow up mattress, books, nail apron, bookmarks, and on it goes.

On Sunday, June 30th, I will be taking part in the YALSA Coffee Klatch. I hope I still have some clean underwear by then.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Gathering Authors First Annual Retreat

I have just returned from the First Annual Gathering Authors Retreat in Taos, New Mexico and am already looking forward to next year's event. The Gathering is a LOOSELY organized group of traditionally published New Mexico children's authors who meet to offer each other encouragement, support, and industry tips. In the photo above we are about to enjoy lunch at Lambert's. If you aren't used to New Mexico chile, beware. Left side - front to back (Kersten Hamilton, Me-Carolee Dean, Kimberley Griffiths Little). Right side - back to front (Lauren Bjorkman and Sheralyn Pratt - joining us from Utah). Not pictured (Sheralyn's border collie - SeBi).

Our retreat, also LOOSELY organized, was held at the Sagebrush Inn. The only cost was travel and hotel expenses. We made a list of topics we wanted to cover and that was the extent of our planning. Topics included - The Changing Face-Book of Social Media, Wacky Marketing Ideas, Effective Marketing Plans, Publishing Woes/Joys, and How to Hit the NY Times Best Seller List).

Some of the most memorable events of the retreat included our totally unplanned excursions. A discussion about dystopian literature and end-of-the-world scenarios (including the Maya apocalypse I recently finished writing) led us to create the Twitter hashtag #createyourownapocalypse and coerce the owners of Moby Dickens to let us film a spontaneous YouTube video in their bookstore. (The video will be posted as soon as Sheralyn figures out her new computer program.)

I ran into a librarian friend of mine who was attending an Art Institute at the Sagebrush. She described the Inn as "shabby-chic," which also describes most of Taos. The cost of lodging also covered a free, cook-to-order breakfast. Several of us pitched story ideas during these breakfast meetings which led to the death of at least one debutante by Main Character Assassination. Better to get rid of them BEFORE you write an entire story about them.

In addition to having stimulating conversations, we found time to take a guided tour of the Taos Pueblo and shop on the Plaza where we toured an art gallery, listened to street musicians, and checked out Day of the Dead figurines. We've already had several out-of-state authors who say they are planning to join us next year. We are planning a night of music on the Plaza and we might even see some tribal dancing. If you are a traditionally published author/illustrator, contact me at  for additional details.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guest Authors Talk About Writing Non-Fiction with Heart

Nancy Bo Flood and Marty Crump spoke at our April SCBWI meeting at Alamosa Books this month about "Writing with Heart."

Nancy Bo Flood has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and has studied fish brains and taught college courses as part of her academic career. She discussed making the journey from academic research writing to writing for children and told the group it is vital not to talk down to children. She discussed her non-fiction titles and said that schools are using non-fiction books more and more to provide the richness of information that children crave. 

She discussed how being forced to meet a short word count makes her very conscious of word choice. Deciding how to communicate courage and excitement and commitment about a subject like bull riding in a 150 word article is the type of challenge she often faces as a writer.

Even for fiction, an author must find the through line, the story arc, the journey, and the passion of their story. She said a good question to ask yourself is -- When the reader closes the book, what do you want them to remember? What is the theme? What is the heart of the story?


She told us that the theme of Sand to Stone and Back Again is that rock, just like you, is always changing.  Nancy likes to engage young students by teaching them to write 
Diamond poems which go from one thing to another using the sand to stone example in her book. 

To read more about Nancy and her books visit Nancy's website.

Marty Crump is a biologist who spent much of her life writing scientific papers where she was forced to edit out all creative ideas and use very specific jargon.  When she started writing for the general public, both adults and children, the hardest part was realizing that most people are not interested in the amount of detail that she discovers in her research. She said it's important to pick the most crucial information.

Marty writes about the environment and nature and her favorite part of the process  is collecting research, but that she must then distill all the information she has collected and tell only the absolute best parts. She learned that lesson the hard way when her first draft of Mysteries of the Komoda Dragon was 12,000 words but her editor only wanted 2,500. That experience forced her to make every word count.

Thank you to both authors for a wonderful evening, and stop by again the next time you're in Albuquerque. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Recognize Great Story Plots

The Secret Language of Stories is a twelve step story analysis system I’ve devised both to plot my novels and to teach story building to adults and kids. It’s based on Joseph Campbell’s classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, with strong influences from The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. In the past few years I’ve seen Vogler’s work referenced more and more in the classroom, but for the struggling readers and writers I work with, some of the ideas are still a bit abstract. My impetus for creating The Secret Language of Stories was to come up with imagery and vocabulary my students could understand all the way from first grade through high school but with concepts deep enough to still be a challenge in adult creative writing workshops. A complete description of my system may be found at  the Secret Language of Stories Tab at this blog.

When I give presentations at conferences and workshops, I provide numerous examples for each of the twelve points in the story analysis, but teachers frequently ask if I can give them any examples of an analysis of an entire book. Some of my older Spellbinders posts contain analyses of picture books, but I recently complete a novel that was so well plotted, it was easy to see the structure.

City of Bones is a fabulous New York Times Best Selling novel by Cassandra Clare. It is the first book in The Mortal Instruments series and it tells the story of Clary Fray, who seems to be a typical teenage girl until she starts seeing demons and Shadowhunters. For this week's issue of Spellbinders, I've written an analysis of the plot.


The following analysis contains several spoilers so I strongly advise reading the book before proceeding. I will attempt to avoid talking about the wonderful twists and turns while focusing on the spine of the story. I don’t want to ruin the fabulous revelations and family secrets that are uncovered.  On the other hand, the book is so well written, that it’s a total delight, even if you know how it ends. There are very few books that I start reading again as soon as I finish them, but this was one of them

To find my analysis of City of Bones, visit Spellbinders.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Letters to the Author

Today I'm over at the Spellbinders Blog talking about the "Letter to the Author" project I conducted with freshman and sophomores at the high school where I work as a speech-language pathologist. I'm offering more suggestions about connecting readers with authors, but first you may want to visit last month's article where I offered several tips on how to brainstorm letter content with students and incorporate goals and objectives into the letter writing process. A copy of that article may be found here.

As a follow up to last months letter writing project, today I will be discussing additional tips for connecting authors and readers. Here is tip #1. The other four tips may be found at Spellbinders.

1. Connect with authors through books and websites like  Dear Teen Me. While serving on a panel at the Montgomery Book Festival in February, I met co-panelist E. Kristin Anderson and fell in love with the book she edited with Miranda Kenneally entitled Dear Teen Me. The book contains letters by various authors to their teen selves and includes entries by Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver, Carrie Jones and Cynthia Leitich Smith. The various authors cover a wide range of topics including finding true love, discovering the true meaning of friendship, as well as surviving physical abuse, body issues, and bullying. The stories are sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but always close to the heart. I highly recommend this book as well as the website Dear Teen Me for connecting readers and authors.

While we anxiously awaited Cynthia's response to our letters, we read her excerpt from Dear Teen Me. Learning about Cynthia's experience of break up, heart break, and the girl bully who tormented, but ultimately admitted that she admired Cynthia, made it that much more meaningful when we received Cynthia's response to our student letters. She answered individual questions within a group letter and I made copies to hand out to all the students so they could follow along as I read the letter aloud in class.

For other helpful tips on connecting young readers with authors, go to Spellbinders.