Category Archives: events

American Indian Cultural Festival

I am beyond thrilled to be included in the American Indian Cultural Festival held this week in The Dalles. I will be appearing alongside Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Woody, the poet laureate of Oregon, and adult writer, Craig Leslie. We will be doing a poetry reading which is free and open to the public on Thursday April 13th at 4:00 in The Dalles Middle School Commons. There will be live music and a drum and dance group from the Quinault Nation. Each of the authors will read a new poem. If you happen to be in the area, I’d love to see you there.

Klindt’s bookstore will host a book signing party at 7:00 that same evening. Klindt’s has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in the state. I am particularly grateful to the owners of the bookstore who purchased hundreds of copies of my book, Written in Stone to give away to the students I will visit the day following these events. I am also very grateful to Jim Tindale, Librarian extraordinaire who did the lion’s share of the work in coordinating this festival which includes coordinating readings and author visits in 7 locations over the course of two days. He also spearheaded all the fundraising that made this celebration possible.

In addition to the poetry event I will be attending a talk by Sherman Alexie at The Dalles High School. Hundreds of children will come in on busses from all over the county to hear him read from Thunder Boy Jr.  which was illustrated by the amazing Yuyi Morales. This event will include drummers and dancers from the Quinault nation.

A Writer’s Panel at the Garden Home Library

First of all I must say that I love my local library for the safe harbor it has been for all four of my children for their entire childhoods. What a blessing to have a place I can encourage my kids to go on their bikes without me. A thousand thanks to the librarians who have staffed the Garden Home Branch over the years.

Snoopy-WriterNext Tuesday the Adult Summer Reading Program will have a writer’s panel and I’m so pleased to be appearing with one of my long-time writing friends Heather Vogel Frederick and a new writing friend Cindy Brown. It should be lots of fun. Here’s a link to the full information. It’s also on my calendar. See you in a week!

Summer Plans

Looking forward to warmer days and working in my treehouse this summer. I’ll be taking a workshop at Fishtrap again this summer. Last year I worked with Gary Ferguson, the author of The Carry Home, about w0926081231riting nature based non-fiction. It was a really refreshing break in my routine to spend some time thinking about what makes non-fiction work. This year I’m going to take a workshop from Erika Wurth and I’m looking forward to working on a group of adult short stories I’ve been fiddling around with over the last year or so. Fishtrap is held in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, Wallowa Lake, and it’s staffed but the least stuffy literary crowd you’ve ever met. I’ve grown as a writer and felt more connected to writers in my region every time I’ve masthead2014gone. If you’re looking for something different in a summer workshop, Fishtrap is still taking applications. They’ve got great stuff for young writers too so if you’re not the only writer in the family this makes a great family vacation.

imagesI’m also looking forward to doing a little teaching in Portland at a brand new young writers workshop headed up by Kari Nelsestuen, a passionate advocate for young writers. I’ll be guest teaching a session for both the younger and older students. It’s called PDX Young Writers Camp and I’d love to send you to the website to sign up but I believe it’s already full. If you have a young writer who’d be interested in future writers camps send me note via the contact button here and I’ll get you on Kari Nelsestuen’s email list for next summer.

I’ll also be teaching two brand new interactive workshops at the Willamette Writers Conference August 7th to 9th.  They are on plotting and revising novel length fiction. Participants will come away with a deeper understanding of plotting long form fiction, ideas for how to strengthen setting, theme and voice, and an interactive outline for their own work in progress. Con-header-20151Willamette Writers always puts on a terrific conference with lots of options no matter what kind of writer you are, and they always bring in a huge range of producers, agents, and editors to take pitches.

My personal goal is to finish up the Heart of a Shepherd screenplay in May so that I’ll have all summer to delve into new work. My book that’s coming out in January is one I’ve been work on bit by bit for more than 4 years. It actually morphed into two completely different books, so it’s been a very long time since I’ve started brand new work.images-1 IMG_0834But now I’m debating between a story about a young Irish harper and the famine era migration of unaccompanied children from Ireland,  and a story told from the point of a view of a wolf but also about migration.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about which story sounds like more fun. How do you make up your mind about which story to write next?


Returning Librarians to my School District

A few years ago my children’s school district faced a catastrophic shortfall in their budget. The cuts that followed were many and painful, among them the loss of every single certified teacher librarian in the largest school district in Oregon. Fortunately our funding crisis is over and we’re in the happy position of deciding how to expand services. After some very eloquent 5th graders testified to the frustration of going to the school library only to find the door locked, I added some observations as a former student, a parent, a 20 year volunteer, and a visiting author.

What I had to say may be applicable to your home school district so if you are fighting this battle in some other place, please feel free to borrow my words. If you are a parent or student in the Beaverton School District, you have one more chance to make your voice heard at a budget meeting at 6:30pm on the 20th of this month at school district headquarters.

Here are my thoughts on why my own school district needs a certified teacher-librarian in every school.

1.Teacher support

As a visiting author I am in hundreds of schools all over the country. I work with grade school, middle, and high school teachers to encourage reading and writing and generate excitement for literature. Everywhere I go I meet English and reading teachers who are genuinely excited to do the higher level reading work that new standards ask of them. They want to delve deeper into texts of all genres. They are excited to bring students the best and most current books. But not every book stands up to higher level reading. The Wimpy Kid franchise, for example, is not up to the task. In order to find the books that will bear greater scrutiny and model the best and most elegant use of language, you’d have to read several hundred books each year. It’s wildly impractical to ask every single English and reading teacher to do this every year.

A certified teacher librarian is the person well qualified to winnow the enormous variety of current books to the 30 or 40 strongest candidates so that each teacher can choose from among the best of the best. They are also the ones with the resources to help teachers find books available in translation, audio, and ebook to accommodate the needs of a diverse population.

2. Loss to private schools

There are dozens of private schools within Beaverton’s boundaries. All of them have full time teacher-librarians, and that is a huge draw. It was not always so. When my parents were choosing between public and parochial schools for me they looked at the options and saw, on the one hand, a parochial school that would see to my spiritual development and had significantly smaller class sizes, and on the other hand, a public school with a well funded library and a full time librarian. They chose public schools. The parochial schools in the area are expanding, and we stand to lose high achieving students and highly involved parents if we don’t provide school libraries. Having been in several Catholic schools over the last five years, I’ve seen relatively small libraries with limited technology. But they have a full time teacher librarian and children have full access to that smaller collection. The Beaverton school district libraries far exceed most private schools in the size and quality of the collection but that vital asset is currently behind a locked door.

3. Supporting growing diversity.

Our school district has recently become a majority non-white district. This coincides with a moment when publishers are highly motivated to publish titles with multicultural characters. Looks like a win-win situation. But if nobody is there to buy the books with non-white characters, publishers will stop making them. There is a huge need for kid’s books with non-white characters. At the moment, 90% of titles have a white protagonist. That’s a ridiculous figure and the only reason it’s true is that those books consistently sell. In order for an authentic body of literature to take root for the young readers we have today is for well funded school libraries to buy the books that reflect their populations, and make sure that kids find the books that mirror their own experience and speak to their own values. We could make a huge difference in providing a legacy of inclusive literature for children.

4. Supporting family literacy

One of the things I’ve seen in talking to immigrant students, not just in Oregon but all over, is that for many of them the school library is their only library. Whether the issue is transportation or fear of library fines or reluctance to register an address publicly, lots of kids only have access to free books through a school library. One of the strongest factors in predicting whether a child will read on grade level is access to books in the home. Our families no matter how poor or disadvantaged want to support their children’s reading. By keeping the school library behind a locked door, we deny them the number one tool in learning to read: books!

A fully funded and staffed school library supports literacy better and more efficiently by enabling the student and parent to do their share of the work. With English language learning families we have a golden opportunity in the years when parents are motivated to read aloud to their children. A teacher-librarian is in the position to put into the hands of these families the books and audio books that will, not only support the child, but lift the literacy of the parent. Then we have both higher performing students and more empowered and engaged parents–a win for the entire community.

Please consider testifying in support of fully funded and staffed libraries at the Beaverton School District Administration Center at 6:30 on Monday April 20th. 16550 SW Merlo Road, Beaverton, OR  97003.

If you are not in the Beaverton School District I hope you will consider advocating for school librarians in your home district.


Promotion and the Big Publishing House

The hook I see self-publishing presses use more often than any other is to claim that the major publishing houses no longer promote the books they publish. They suggest that authors are all on their own even at the big houses to arrange their own publicity, so you might as well go with a self-published press and get a bigger share of the pie. It’s a tempting line of thinking but one which can sometimes prompt a decision a writer later regrets.

Harold Underdown has an excellent post on the things a traditional publisher does for your book here. This is my take on the issue. I have a novel out this year. It’s one that I’ve worked on for more than 15 years and is very dear to me. My publisher, Random House, is not sending me on a book tour or buying product placement for me in the chain bookstores or featuring me at the big book conferences–BEA and ALA. And am I upset? Not in the least! Here’s why.

Nobody expects this book to be a blockbuster, not my publishers, not my reviewers, and not me. We all know that what we’ve got here is a solidly written book that will be of interest to fans of historical fiction and useful to teachers and librarians. It’s exactly the kind of book which never gets attention in the self-publishing market which is a great place to discover a highly commercial book like Fifty Shades of Gray but a dismal venue for a literary children’s novel. But with a traditional publishing house we don’t need Written in Stone to be a blockbuster. We just need it to reach it’s intended audience. And to that end my publisher has done a number of extraordinarily intelligent (but not highly visible) things in the marketing of this book.

1. Editorial Process

First and foremost I have the expertise of an editor with lots of experience and a heart for what makes a book work for a kid reader. He also knows what the school and library market is looking for so he made sure I got all the room I needed for a detailed authors note. And did I have to pay him? Nope. Part of the package.

2. Cover design

I love this cover! It does everything a cover needs to do and is a work of art besides. Did I have to find the nationally known artist Richard Tuschman and convince him to do this work? Nope. All that coordination and design work was done by the talented cover team at Random House. They took the few reference photos I sent and their own love of story and made magic happen.

3. Reviews

One of the hardest things to do as a self-published author is to get review attention for a book, even a really good book. I don’t even have to think about it. Part of the package.

4. Teacher’s guide

Pat Scales made a gorgeous teachers guide and my publicist has been great about sending copies of it out to bookstores doing fall teacher previews. Even better, you can download it for free. Because I’m a teacher I could have made this on my own, but it would have taken weeks of research through the common core to do it properly and then there is the design and layout–an entirely different skill set which I do not possess.

5. Sales Reps

Because my book is of regional interest the local sales reps at Random House featured the book in their meetings with the largest library systems in the northwest. It not only encourages book purchase but highlights the title to the group of people who sit on award committees and choose state-wide reading lists. It’s a very smart move and not something I could ever set up on my own for just one book.

6.Book Tour

Here is the best part: they didn’t send me on a book tour! A tour is expensive and puts a lot of pressure on the author to recoup the expense in book sales. Instead they’ve let me set up my own book events in venues where I know I can generate interest, with book sellers who have supported me in the past, and at schools who are invested in bringing me to speak to their students. I get to pick a schedule that works with my family’s commitments. I can take advantage of family or sports events travel and couple it with speaking engagements. I can pull together something at last minute to do a favor for a friend who is suddenly without a speaker at their conference. I can plan a whole year in advance for a week long author-in-residence. Yes, this is a lot of work, but the payoff in terms of relationships built in the business will benefit me for years to come so it’s time well worth investing.

7. Support

Even though they aren’t flying me all over the country, they are supporting me in my travels with timely responses to my communications, and on time shipments to the bookstores where I speak. They’ve never missed a shipment–not once. They keep my back list in good supply. I never have to worry if the books will be there. This reputation is one of the reasons bookstores are willing to have me in. They make it look easy to have a seamless supply and delivery of books, but I bet it isn’t.

8. Prompt conversion to paperback

About half the schools I contact for visits want to wait until my title is in paperback so that they can afford a full classroom set and the students can afford to buy their own book. No problem! The paperback comes out in a year. We can go ahead and schedule into next school year knowing an affordable book is on the way. And just like all the rest, it’s part of the initial contract I don’t have to make it happen all on my own.

None of this is intended to disparage self-published work. There is outstanding craft in self-published books. I’m very excited to see a new book award from SCBWI for self-published work. But I’m also sad for people who have been swan-songed into going it alone on a book that would be better served in a traditionally published venue. So before you decide to go it alone, think about what you are turning down with a traditional publisher. It might be worth the wait and the careful rewriting and polishing of your story to get your foot in the door.