Burlington Book Festival

So I’ve discovered that I really love panel discussions.

I was on a panel about Writing for Children and Young Adults at this weekend’s Burlington Book Festival, along with Jo Knowles, Linda Urban, Tanya Lee Stone, and Julie Berry.  I’m pretty sure I enjoyed listening to my fellow authors at least as much as the people in the audience.  We talked about writing process and outlining (turns out we are all "plungers" to one degree or another), book challenges, and the business of writing.

From left to right, that’s me, Jo Knowles, and Julie Berry in front, Linda Urban and Tanya Lee Stone in back.

It was also great to meet the people who came to see us — librarians and teachers and writers and readers. Thanks to everyone who came out — and especially my fellow panelists — for such a fantastic afternoon!

The Burlington Book Festival is this weekend!

On Saturday from 1:00-2:00, I’ll be part of a panel discussion on Writing for Children and Young Adults at Fletcher Free Library, along with the  authors of these amazing books.


We’ll be talking about both the craft and business of writing for kids.  What would you like to know?  Feel free to share a question in comments, even if you can’t join us on Saturday.(But we really hope we’ll see you there!)

The literary festivities run all weekend.  There’s a whole, smashing lineup of events posted here on the festival website.

Weekend Time Travel

For some reason, everyone in the Champlain Valley decided that last weekend would be the perfect time for a big festival, so I ended up with three book events packed into two days.  It made for a crazy-busy weekend, but a fun and fascinating one, too.

My first stop was the Battle of Plattsburgh Celebration, where I read from Champlain and the Silent One and signed books at the festival tent.

Afterwards, I had some time to walk around and enjoy the battle reenactment.  Where else can you pack a picnic and watch a 19th century naval battle without worrying about rogue cannonballs?

I also loved the "Plucky Rooster Contest," sponsored by the celebration committee.  Legend has it that during the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh, a British cannonball blasted into a chicken coop on board the American ship called the Saratoga.  The rooster inside that coop, instead of fluttering off all frightened, supposedly jumped up onto the cannon and flapped his wings in defiance.  To honor his cock-a-doodle-memory, festival organizers invite folks to design their own "plucky roosters"  made of anything they choose.  This one won second place in the contest but was my personal favorite.

There’s something about a rooster with dreadlocks that you just have to love…

From Plattsburgh, it was on to Crown Point for the Festival of Nations celebration, where I gave a presentation and then sang Happy Birthday to the Crown Point Light, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a lighthouse.  There were sparklers and cupcakes, too, which made this author very happy.  

Sunday was the Burlington Book Festival, where my camera ran out of batteries right after my husband took this picture of me outfitting a young recruit for the Continental Navy.

Otherwise, I’d have many more photos, since my daughter and I stuck around to enjoy a whole day’s worth of kids’ programming.  You’ll have to imagine pictures of Tanya Lee Stone talking about her new book Sandy’s Circus, Harry Bliss scribbling pictures with kids from the audience, and Katherine Paterson giving a fantastic dramatic reading of her work. 

The presentations were fantastic. I loved seeing LJ friends wordsrmylife  and cfaughnan . And when I stepped outside…the icing on the cake (actually the ice cream on the cake), I found the Ben & Jerry’s truck giving out free samples of their new flavors. 

Books + writer friends + ice cream full of little chocolate peace signs = a perfect, perfect day.

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

Burlington Book Festival

I know it’s early, but I want to let everyone know about the Burlington Book Festival coming up next month.  Burlington, VT hosts an incredible book festival each fall, just as the leaves are changing color in New England.  If you live in the Northeast (or even if you don’t but you really, really like autumn leaves and books), it’s worth the trip.  Most of the events are being held at Waterfront Theater on the shores of Lake Champlain.

I’ll be presenting  on Sunday, September 16th at the Children’s Literature Festival.  Here’s my blurb from the festival website:

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

Right after my presentation, Linda Urban (

) will read from A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and talk about the journey of writing and publishing a children’s book.  (Even though Linda says it will make her nervous, my kids and I are definitely going to be in the audience!)

Also on tap for the Sunday kids’ day… Tracey Campbell Pearson, James Kochalka, Anna Dewdney, Harry Bliss, Jim Arnosky, Barbara Seuling, Marie-Louise Gay, Barbara Lehman, and Warren Kimble.

And the rest of the Book Festival is nothing to scoff at either, with writers like Chris Bohjalian, Howard Frank Mosher, Russell Banks, and Joyce Carol Oates speaking on Saturday, September 15th.  The full schedule is posted at the festival website now. If you’re in the area that weekend, please stop by the Children’s Literature Festival and say hello!