WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR


It is amazing how many approach me with a character, topic, or general premise and tell me I absolutely have to write about it. It usually begins something like “Do I have an idea for you.” Ninety-nine percent of the time, their effort is wasted. You see, an idea has to resonate with an author before he or she can write about it and have it ring true. Editors sometimes come to me with ideas they want to add to their lists and, as often as not, I turn them down because they’re just not something I’m interested in or they aren’t something I feel I could devote a substantial block of time from my life to research and write about. The author needs to “own” an idea, to make it his or her own. This brings me to yesterday. I was sitting in my cardiologist’s office. Kirk is young. He’s from the East Coast. Most of the 45 minutes of my allotted appointment with him every six months is spent in chit-chat–the swarm of bees he found hanging in the mesquite tree–“almost like an old man’s beard”–over his BMW one morning when he came out to go to work, jogging trails in and around Tucson that we’ve tackled together and individually, and/or old-school versus new-school doctoring. (He’s of the old-school philosophy where time spent with patient is more important than corporate bottom line, which explains why he’s in private practice.) Then, without the do-I-have-an-idea-for-you prelude, he launched into telling me something from his childhood upbringing about which he is passionately fascinated. “Tell me more,” I said, and he did.

“You know,” said I, “I see a book in that.” It sounded like a topic I could make my own.

And he told me even more. He pulled up information on his laptop, showed me pictures, and offered his materials to me if I want to use them.

At the end of our now seventy-five minutes together he said, “Keep jogging. Keep cycling. You’re doing all the right things to be heart healthy and strong.”

I will also keep listening because out of every one hundred ideas pitched at an author at conferences, online at the market, and at the doctor’s office, there may be one that proves to be a gem.

I’m taking some time off to write, but plan to return in late fall. Have a happy Memorial Day and take a moment to remember your blessings and those who have helped to make them possible. Happy Summer, all!



I look out from the terrace on this lovely California day, with the early morning sun shining brightly and–importantly–the tectonic plates quiet and still. All around people are hustling and bustling to get to work, to do the work before them, to walk the dog, to stroll with friends. Cranes silently swing through the air, seeming likely to collide with the buildings that surround them. They don’t. The trains and trolleys arrive, depositing more people from the north, east, and south to fill the office towers. Planes land at nearby Lindbergh Field. I feel blessed to have something to do when I wake in the morning to perform my own hustle and bustle. I wish you all things to do that bring you pleasure, that provide value.




Yesterday was the day of internet fear! Not so here. I turned on my computer as usual, I ran off to Superior Court to collect some information. Superior Court forgot to turn in my request for information, so it wasn’t ready. I paid another $20 and waited while they placed the call to retrieve it from wherever ancient records are kept. (They call it “Iron Mountain.”) They tell me it will take three to five days for them to receive it. This is interesting, because I will be here only another three to five days. I cross my fingers. Back in my space, I continued working on the second of two proposals I’ve promised my editor. By 4:00, it was finished and I hit save. Now I usually simultaneously save my work to the cloud, but I hadn’t eaten all day. I was hungry. Darn those hunger pangs! I had some al dente carrots and broccoli and returned to my computer to save a copy of the proposal to the cloud. Error! File does not exist! Corrupt file! Okay, my system wasn’t corrupted by the malware bug going around, but still. I was less than happy.

On the bright side, I was able to retrieve MOST of the proposal, or at least the part that is the most difficult to write. Today I will finish the proposal for the second time, then off it will go. Technology is great, until it isn’t.


Word from the Highlights Foundation tells me that my Master Class in Nonfiction is “completely sold out” with eager writers. I look forward to meeting with everyone in July (16-20), when we’ll have an outstanding cast of faculty members lined up: Peter Jacobi, Don Tate, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Gwendolyn Hooks, Rich & Sandra Wallace, and editor Jessica Echeverria. Come prepared to learn, to share, to picnic, and to consume a few S’mores. I’ll see you there, then.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out an opening keynote and a session. Session suggestions are welcomed. What do you want to know, to learn? What questions can I answer for you?



I hope to see some of you at my July 16-20 Nonfiction Master Class for the Highlights Foundation, and if nonfiction doesn’t ring your bell there are dozens of others to choose from. Take a look at the schedule of offerings over the summer and pick one. You owe it to yourself! https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/upcoming-workshops/

About the Nonfiction Master Class:


Nonfiction matters.

Publishers crave it.

Teachers and librarians need it.

Nonfiction connects our children to the world. Stories about real people, real places, and really interesting world events are more important now than ever.

Our master class explores nonfiction from many angles: the editorial, the business, and, most importantly, the art of telling true stories. Work with our talented group of mentors to explore factual writing through a range of topics, including nonfiction voice, biography, memoir, nature writing, science writing, and narrative nonfiction. Your mentor will help guide you in your revisions or explore story ideas during daily one-on-one sessions.

Additional opportunities include:

  • connecting with acquiring editors;
  • developing necessary research and interview skills;
  • exploring today’s magazine and trade-book markets; and
  • investigating visual design through illustration and photography

About the faculty:

Larry Dane Brimner, Gwendolyn Hooks, Don Tate, Peter Jacobi, Rich Wallace, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Sandra Neil Wallace. Special Guest: Jessica Echeverria.
Work with our talented group of mentors to explore factual writing.





Ephemera is defined as “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness.” Some publishers also refer to it as “dead matter.” I prefer ephemera, and while it typically is applied to that which has a short-term usefulness, sometimes it lasts longer. Much longer. Today, as I’m feeling a bit wistful and melancholy, I look around my home and see another sort of ephemera–the ephemera of a career. Scattered across this page are gifts from schools I have visited over the years that have meaning to me and still bring a smile to my heart. Sometimes schools ask what sorts of collections I have or what my hobbies are, and other times they simply surprise. These gems aren’t necessary, certainly not a condition of my Performance Agreement. But the extra thoughtfulness of librarians and teachers and the schools they represent is and always has been meaningful to me. A dazzling red and yellow sock puppy from a school in Europe. A sock monkey from a school in Georgia. A mosaic banana slug paperweight from Humboldt County (California). A sea snail shell, also from Humboldt County, but a different school, which was part of a Max and Felix box of letters from students. The young lad who contributed the shell said he didn’t want me to forget the ocean because I live in the desert. (I have not forgotten the ocean and I still have the letters, each and every one. The box sits prominently on a shelf in my guest room.)

A couple of blue-and-white ceramic love birds from the American Embassy School in Mexico. A colorful and fun original painting by Brian Andreas from a school in Iowa. It’s caption says a lot to me: “There are lives I can imagine without children but none of them have the same laughter and noise.”

There is more ephemera from this career. So much more. But looking back over the 30-plus-years that I have been writing and visiting schools, I realize I have been blessed to cross paths with so many wonderful people and outstanding schools. Thank you all for being a part of my life and bringing me such joyful memories.




Hello, Friends. I’ve been busy, but not accomplishing what I want to do. Yesterday I spent the day re-reading (for about the nine thousandth time) the ARC for the November book. It needed to be done. I think the ARC is now ready to go, so I sent that off. There is a pre-first-pass revision waiting on my desk. I’ve been procrastinating on it because there’s a NF picture book I had hoped to have finished by Friday last. That didn’t happen. So today I may dive into the revision. And then there’s the book I should be working on and just haven’t been able to drag myself into it. I know it will be fine once I begin researching in earnest, but for now . . . I guess I’m still in that “Do I have to” stage of the process. Happy Writing!


Happy Birthday, Bayard Rustin!

Bayard Rustin, civil rights pioneer and the “intellectual engineer” of the civil rights movement, was born 105 years ago today in West Chester, Pennsylvania. You can read his story in We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin.


We need more leaders like Bayard today. Especially today.

(Published by Calkins Creek Books / Highlights Press. For grades 4 and up.)


When I visit a school, I am often amazed at and amused by the questions children ask. Kids ask questions based on what is important to them, and their questions range from age to money, from children to pets. A few of their questions even hit on the topic of writing and reading. Librarians and teachers often caution children not to ask personal questions–but they do anyway. Some of the questions I’ve encountered over the 30+ years I’ve been visiting children in schools (and maybe a few answers) follow:

What genre do you enjoy writing most, fiction or nonfiction? (A: I’m partial to fiction, but I enjoy them both. I need fiction to allow my imagination to wander and to provide a change of pace from the research that my nonfiction requires. I love doing research and tracking down information, but every now and then I need to communicate with the puppies, bears, armadillos, and others that live inside my head. My head is a busy place.)

Where do you find your ideas? (A: Everywhere.)

How do you create tension in a story? (A: Make your main character’s life difficult. That is, give him or her a problem and make that character struggle to find a solution.)

I notice you’re not wearing a ring. Does that mean you’re not married?

Do you have any children and, if so, what is her name and is she cute?

Does somebody MAKE you write? (A: No, I actually enjoy it. Well, most of the time.)

Are you famous?

Are you rich?

After being cautioned by a teacher not to ask questions about money, a young man asked, “So, what’s it like living in a mansion?” Another asked (same audience): What kind of car do you drive? (A: I drive a Toyota. <noticing his disappointed look> Did you think I was going to say a Lamborghini?)

I am really interested in becoming a writer. What is the best way to go about getting published?

Do you know any famous people?

What is your favorite kind of book to read? (A: Mysteries.)

When you go to a restaurant, do people stop eating and stare at you?

Do you have to be a certain age to be a writer? (A: No.) Can a kid like me get published? (A: Yes.) How?

How old are you? (A: A quarter of a century times two, plus the set of…)

Happy Writing!



Me, Myself and I


new-year-resolutions1I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.   They’ve always felt to me like daily reminders of my lack of discipline and perseverance. So when my daughter asked on January 1st what my New Year’s resolution was, I gave a speech from atop my soap box. She nodded, listened patiently, and then responded,

“My resolution this year is to be selfish.”

Not only was I appalled that she obviously hadn’t listened intently to my speech about the failure of resolutions, she forged ahead with her own. And from where I stood, it was brazenly self-centered.

“You want to be more selfish in the New Year?” I nearly screamed. Who was this narcissistic, prima donna I had spent twenty one years grooming to be kind, compassionate and selfless?

“Sometimes,” she continued, “ I feel like I put other people’s needs in front of my own.”

Is that a bad…

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