Happy book news!

best tracker

I’ve been sitting on a secret for a while…but the cat is out of the bag at Publishers Marketplace today.

July 28, 2008
Middle grade 
Kate Messner’s untitled book about a 12-year-old girl who has until the end of the week to finish her huge 7th grade leaf project, but she faces comic catastrophes (and real drama) at every turn to Walker Children’s, for publication in Fall 2009, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

I *heart* my new editor at Walker and am so excited to be working with her. 

Editorial Letters

There’s an interesting thread over at Verla Kay’s discussion boards for children’s writers and illustrators right now.  It’s about the editorial letter — the letter that shows up from your editor a few weeks or months after your book has been sold.  Editorial letters can be anywhere from a few lines to many pages, and they talk about what your editor would like to see in revisions before your book goes to copy editing.

I’m in the middle of two revisions with two different editors right now, and I completely understand the feeling of being overwhelmed (especially when someone is, you know, expecting to see a new draft by a certain date – yikes!).  With both, I found that I read the editorial letter and then left it on a corner of my desk for a few days, stealing glances at it like it was some wild animal that had gotten into the house that I wasn’t sure how to deal with.  Kind of like the time I opened our garage door and found a raccoon up on the shelf next to the sidewalk chalk, gnawing on a corn cob from the garbage and staring at me with red alien eyes. I crept away quietly and went inside to think about it for a while. 

The raccoon wandered away on its own.  My editorial letters don’t do that, though, so it helps me a lot to take a letter and turn it into a very simple, bulleted, to-do list on a single sheet of paper.  That allows me to sit down and pick ONE JOB each night, crossing it off when I’m done. It makes the whole thing feel much more manageable.  Right now, my to-do list looks like this:

New beginning – add classroom scene
Make time frame clear
VG – change so she’s not new at school
KB – add character trait
Annie- develop idea of 2 worlds
Add conversation w/ teacher
Add scene w/ James
More scenes w/ Sparky
New ending

Does anyone else have tips/tricks/words of wisdom for digging into a revision after the editorial letter arrives?

Sample hardtack at your own risk

I visited with a great group of kids at the South Burlington Community Library today — a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.  I read from Spitfire as well as my upcoming release, Champlain and the Silent One.  We imagined ourselves as French and Native fur traders in the early 17th century, and we worked our way through an 18th century sailor’s haversack to see what kinds of things they carried during the Battle of Valcour Island in the American Revolution.

As part of my Spitfire presentation, I often pass out samples of hardtack so kids can see what kinds of rations the sailors had in the weeks leading up to battle.  I always pass the basket around with a warning….  “Be careful not to bite down quickly because it’s really, really hard.”

Well, today it finally happened.  If you look closely at the right side of Alaina’s mouth, you can see the hole where her tooth used to be before she sampled my hardtack.

Actually, the tooth fell out a little while after the presentation.  Alaina and her mom drove back to the library to show me.  She even let me take her picture so she can be the “be-careful-eating-hardtack” poster girl forever more.  Thankfully, the tooth was already very loose before today’s author visit, so I don’t think there will be legal action.

Thanks to librarian Marje Von Ohlsen for inviting me today, to Alaina for being such a good sport, and to all the South Burlington kids and parents who made my rainy Thursday afternoon so much fun.


Thank you SO much for chiming in with opinions and ideas for title help on what will now be known as “that leaf collection book” until there’s a final title.
I just pressed the send button to fire off my completed revisions to WNE, along with all of the wonderful title ideas and feedback you gave me.  Yet another reason to love the LJ community – thanks!

Title help? Pleeeeaase?

This post is friends-locked because asking for help involves spilling some beans that aren’t really supposed to be spilled just yet.

I have this MG novel.  It used to be called SWINGER OF BIRCHES, and then it was called MAPLE GIRL.  I revised it and revised it and revised it.  And then…a wonderful but still nameless editor bought my book, and it’s going to be a Fall 2009 release, so I’ve been revising and revising and revising some more.  And one of the revisions involves brainstorming a new title.

That’s why Wonderful Nameless Editor (hereafter referred to as WNE) gave me the okay to post some details here to get ideas.

So…if you’re still reading, I hope it’s because you’re a brilliant-title-generating kind of person.   Here’s the essence of the story…

12-year-old Gianna Zales can handle her grandmother’s tendency to leave false teeth in the refrigerator.  She can handle a little brother who thinks he’s a member of the paparazzi and a stand-up comic.  She can even handle a health-food nut mother who equates Oreos with arsenic.  But her 7th grade leaf collection might just be the end of her. 

It’s a monster project — 25 leaves, collected, identified, and organized by Friday.  If Gianna can’t get it done on time, she’ll miss cross country sectionals, and her alternate — a girl who wears makeup and princess shirts to track practice — gets to go in her place. But no matter how hard Gianna tries to work on the project, comic catastrophes face her at every turn, and to make matters worse, her beloved Nonna is showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease more serious than dentures in the fridge.

Other tidbits —

    Gianna has trouble paying attention to things. Art  (painting, drawing with bright colored pencils, and creating collages) focuses her. So does running through her home town in Vermont.

   Gianna and her best friend Zig play “The Leaf Game,” where they decide what kind of tree people would be if they were trees.  Zig is an oak.  Gianna is a sugar maple because she’s bright and fluttery.

   The book has threads of Robert Frost woven through it, particularly the poem “Swinger of Birches.”

Thoughts on titles from my agent and WNE…

    The title should include leaves and/or fall somehow, since it’s set in Vermont in October and is a Fall release.
    Even though it sounds kind of emotional, the book is really funny and quirky, and it would be great if the title captured that.
    It can’t be sappy.  (No pun intended)

Here are some titles that WNE and I have tossed around…


My agent also suggested GIANNA AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD TITLE, but she was kidding.  I think.


Do you like any of those titles?  Do MG readers who live with you like any of them?

Do you have other ideas for titles?

Thanks in advance for any help!  WNE and I will be forever grateful for any ideas you share.

I’m headed back to my revision nook (I don’t have a whole cave) until the kids get home from their respective dance/soccer camps.

Rainy Sunday Photo Memories

Waking up in my own bed today, listening to the rain on the roof was absolute heaven.  Especially since Friday night involved sleeping three hours on an airplane and another two hours on the floor at the  Cleveland airport. Today will be a day of unpacking from our trip to the Pacific Northwest, laundry, grocery shopping, and reliving the trip through our photos.  We put over a thousand miles on the rental car and managed to hit the top spots on everyone’s wish list for sights…

Mount St. Helens from the Johnston Ridge Observatory

I was ten when Mount St. Helens erupted and remember saving my money for weeks to buy a big book about the eruption at our local bookstore. The photos in the book were great; in person, the mountain is absolutely spectacular.

If you stand amid these trees very quietly and listen, you can hear elk bugling.

The Quinault Rainforest is a mossy, magical place with enormous spruce and maple trees and fabulous giant slugs.

(E just walked into the room and said, “Hey! What’s my hand doing on your blog?”)

From the rainforest, we headed to Pacific Beach State Park.

But my favorite experience of the trip was our hike from the Paradise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park.  On the way there, I told the kids, “We might even be able to hike on a little snow if we climb high enough.”   It was the understatement of the trip.  Here’s the family, at the beginning of our 2.5 mile hike…

With record snowfall this year, the meadows and trails were still under 4-8 feet of snow.  On the trail to Glacier Vista, though, we still managed to find some wildflowers emerging where the snow had melted.

It took us over an hour to climb to this viewpoint.  Getting down was much faster.

Who knew that sledding without a sled could be so much fun?

Notes from the Road

1. Who knew that ALL of the hiking trails at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park are still under 4-8 feet of snow?  It made for a stunning and fabulously soggy adventure. (Watch for photos of me sliding down a snowy cliff on my bottom when I get home.)

2. On the way to Mount Rainier, we saw a snack bar that looked like a covered wagon, advertising “Malibu Barbie Latte – $3.95.”  We didn’t stop, but what could this be?

3. Thank you for the Portland suggestions!  The original Powells Books is truly awesome.

4.  So is the gelato shop across the street.  Chocolate-coffee – Mmmmm…..

5.. We’re off to the Quinault Rainforest when the kids wake up this morning.  Hoping to see mossy wonderlands and maybe an elk or two…


Shhh…. The kids are still in bed, sleeping off jet leg from our trip out to Olympia, Washington.  I worked on my MG novel revisions the whole plane ride here, and I’m this close (I’m holding up two fingers that are just millimeters apart) to finishing.

I’m having coffee with marshmallow mocha creamer, sitting at the kitchen table in just about the most charming little rental house in the universe. There’s a dartboard on the porch, golden raspberries in the garden, and a second growth cedar forest out back.  Also a piano and tambourines and bongo drums in the living room.  It was fabulously noisy and fun here last night.

When the kids get up, we’re getting in the car to go hiking at Mount Rainier. We’re still making plans for the rest of the week, but the Hoh Rainforest, Mount St. Helens, and a trip to Portland are all possibilities. We didn’t do much research on Portland.  Powells would definitely be on the agenda.  Does anyone have other suggestions if we go?

Two more things…

1.  My friend Julie Berry just got some great press on her debut novel, The Amaranth Enchantment (Bloomsbury USA, 2009).  It’s an amazing middle grade fantasy that I was lucky enough to read in an earlier draft, and I cannot WAIT until it comes out. Julie is

here on LJ.  If you visit her journal, you can friend her, read that fabulous article about her book, AND see her interviewed in a YouTube clip! 

2.  The baby ducks that were in these eggs on my neighbor’s sea wall…

…HATCHED!!!  They’re out swimming around with Mom as I type.  We’re keeping our distance to keep them comfortable, so you’ll have to wait until they’re older for photos, but they are so cute, and I’m so, so happy they made it.  It’s a tough world out there sometimes.

Friday Five

1. What are some of your favorite titles for middle grade novels?  I’m in title brainstorming mode and would love to hear what kinds of titles make you (or especially your kids) pick up a book.

2. Three cheers to everyone participating in

‘s 15-minutes a day writing challenge.  I love that Laurie organized this and is serving as head cheerleader.  I haven’t been writing to her prompts because I’m in six-hours-a-day revision mode this month, but I still love the idea.

3. I had a new travel companion on my trip to NYC this week.  Her name is Helen.  She rode on the windshield.

Helen was good company, even if she got a little quiet on the long stretch of highway through the Adirondacks.  I have a terrible habit of daydreaming, writing in my head, when I drive alone, so I often miss turns.  Helen understands this and reminds me in a voice that is friendly, if a little bossy at times. I made it to the Albany train station without a single wrong turn.

4. The Italian Ice stand near our community bike path is open again.  They put two scoops in each cup and will mix any flavors you want, but chocolate and pina colada together are the absolute best.

5. E and I are  growing giant pumpkins.  We’ve been enchanted with this idea since we read Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy. I mentioned this a blog entry last fall, and the super-friendly Marlane ended up reading it and mailing me a few Atlantic Giant seeds.  I’m not sure how giant our pumpkins will end up being because we planted the seeds kind of late, but we’re giving it a try.  I’ll keep you posted.