A visit with Linda Urban

My middle school students had a fabulous day with guest author Linda Urban (

), talking about A Crooked Kind of Perfect, writing, setting goals, and having the courage to follow dreams.  If you ever — ever — have an opportunity to host Linda at your school, sign on the dotted line without delay.  She’s an amazing presenter who left kids laughing as well as feeling inspired and appreciated.  I took lots of photos, but I think this one might be my favorite –

Linda  spent our after school  period signing books in the school library, answering questions from kids, and listening — really, really listening — to their ideas about her book and their own goals and dreams.  Thanks, Linda, for a fantastic day!

 Tomorrow, I’ll be on the other side of the author visit, sharing Spitfire and presenting my Revolution program to middle school kids in Colchester and students in the after-school program in Brandon, Vermont.  I’ll post on our 18th century adventures later this week!

More with Linda Urban…

Some of you have already had the pleasure of meeting the author of A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT on

‘s blog this week.  If you haven’t seen her interview, it’s terrific.  If you did see Kelly’s post, you can consider this your second date with Linda!   I’m doing a presentation on my upcoming historical novel SPITFIRE at this weekend’s Burlington Book Festival, and Linda’s talk on CROOKED is right afterwards in the same room, so I wanted to invite her here for a visit first.

Whether they’re adults or kids, people who love reading and writing always want to hear the story of how their favorite books came to be.  What was the inspiration for A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and how did it grow into the middle grade novel it is today?

It started as a picture book.  I was telling author/illustrator David Small about my childhood fantasy of playing classical music on a grand piano and how my dad got seduced by the rhythm switches of a mall organ.  David said, “I can just see the illustrations for that!”  A few weeks later I wrote a picture book, but the voice and pacing were all wrong for a picture book. It wasn’t until two years later that I gave it a try as a novel.  That’s when the story took off.

Many of my blog readers are teachers of writing, and they’re always looking for ways to help kids with revision.  Would you share with us a few of your favorite revision strategies?

Nothing beats reading your work aloud.  That’s when you hear all the word repetition and discover the rhythm of the piece.  For me, writing is about capturing a sound, a voice, a mood.  I can’t be sure I’ve done that until I actually hear the work.

On to the fun stuff now….

Why Neil Diamond?

Many people think I picked “Forever in Blue Jeans” for some sort of cheese factor, but really it is a very sweet, very earnest song that fit Zoe’s story perfectly.  She has to see past the cheese of it, past the disappointment that her competition piece is not the perfect classical composition she had imagined herself playing, and come to love this simple, honest melody.  The lyrics underscore that. 

We live in such an ironic age, enamored of kitsch and edge.  People are made to feel foolish for feeling things with their whole hearts.  If there is anything that I can do to let kids know that it is okay to express what honestly matters to them, I’m all for it.  Hence, a little Neil Diamond.  

The desserts described in A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT sound perfectly delicious.  Are you a great dessert chef, a great dessert eater, neither, or both?

I bake some.  Cookies and breads mostly.  I have a lot of admiration for people who make beautiful desserts.  When you and I spend hours on our writing, part of us is thinking that maybe we’ll find a few words that will live on beyond us, bound in a book, available forever and ever and ever.  A pastry chef can put her heart into a cake – hours of work – and then the whole thing gets swallowed up and that is that.  You really have to care a great deal about making art when you know it is only going to last thirty minutes.

And your favorite dessert is…?

Apple pie.  Yum.

What books — for kids or adults — have you read and loved lately?

I just finished Elijah of Buxton, the latest historical by Christopher Paul Curtis.  What a genius that man is.  He starts by letting us meet Elijah at his most silly and, as his Mama would say “fra-gile”, falling for an elaborate story about “hoop snakes”, playing a practical joke, and getting one played on him in return.  It is hysterically funny and perfect for grabbing the attention of young readers.  In a few short pages you can’t help but know and love Elijah.  And then, slowly, and without losing humor or character, we are introduced into the deep and lasting horrors of slavery that have shaped the lives of the townspeople of Buxton.  The effect is devastating. You’ve got to read this book.

What can folks expect if they come to see you at the Burlington Book Festival this weekend?

I plan to read a little from A Crooked Kind of Perfect and talk with kids and grown-ups about writing, perfection, and getting over the fears that stop us from doing those things that really matter to us. 

If anyone LJ friends are in the area (or up for a road trip!), I know that Linda and I would both love to meet you.  Here’s the scoop on our presentations:

Burlington Book Festival
Waterfront Theatre, Burlington, VT

11:00 AM-12:00 PM


Join Kate Messner for a trip back in time to the American Revolution on Lake Champlain. Kate will read from her middle grade historical novel Spitfire, set during the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776, sign books and present an interactive multimedia slide show about the real 12-year-old who fought in the battle. Kids will be invited to taste the food and try on the clothes of an 18th century sailor, handle artifact replicas and design their own powder horns to take home.

Waterfront Theatre Black Box, 3rd Floor

12:30-1:30 PM


Linda will debut her new book for young readers (ages 8-12), A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Listen to excerpts and find out what it’s like to write and publish a novel for kids.

Waterfront Theatre Black Box, 3rd Floor

I have a million things to do, so…

…I’m photographing my socks.

Why?  Because Linda Urban (

) asked me to, and she’s a very cool writer person. 

(My mother, who reads my blog, is now saying, “Well, if this lurban person asked you to jump off a bridge, would you do that, too?”) 

Well no.  Plus, really, this is all about celebrating Linda’s new book, A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT.  I loved this middle grade novel, and if my fuzzy striped feet help her get the word out, then it was worth almost falling off the piano bench while I leaned over to take the photo.  You can read my review of the book here.

If you check out my friends list, you’ll see just what kind of power Linda has (or how much people like Neil Diamond…hard to tell) because there are cool socks showing up on blogs as far as the eye can see.  (Hey, Linda…does this kind of make you want to ask people to do other crazy things to see if they’ll really do it?) 

Linda would like to see your socks, too, and if you post them on your website or blog (or send her a photo), she’ll enter you in a contest to win a signed copy of her book, a pair of toe socks, and Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits. (If you’ve already read CROOKED, you will NOT roll your eyes at that.)