Improv and Creative Writing sitting in a tree…

Last week, I published a post over at Middle Grade Minded about Why I Write Middle Grade. I wrote about how books helped me through a tough time in my life, 6th grade. It’s all so true that my face reddened while remembering the shrinking, diminished, afraid feelings I had during that time. Oh and that hair. That hair. Lord…lord…

Books gave me solace and helped me find my footing at the end of a day. But it was only part of the story, and I want to share the other vitally important thing that happened in middle school to help me become myself – drama class.

Seems simple, but it was profound. I didn’t know the word for it at the time, but a lot of the early exercises we did in class were improvisation warm-ups. Just laughing and making ridiculous noises, or flopping all over the room like a bunch of unencumbered adolescent weirdos. It was awesome.


Why was it so important? I think because improv let me find my voice in an atmosphere of safe risk-taking, acceptance, and creative expansion. The way books gave my inside life power, improv gave my outside life power. Power to get through the day and participate in the world. To raise my hand in class. To look people in the eye. To respond to questions out loud, without doubting myself. Stories and improv go hand-in-hand in my experience. Creation is creation, stories are stories, expression is expression. For me, they were life-savers.

With my book coming out this fall, I feel like I have a unique opportunity to do something cool.  I’m creating curriculum for workshops that blend the worlds of creative writing and improvisation. I’m so excited for the possibilities and can’t wait to learn more about the ways we can help kids feel more power, less alone, and better able to let their unique voices be heard – on paper, or in some honking, hooting, nonsensical, gorgeous growing-and-shrinking machine.

I’ll be looking for both geographical and non-geographical locations in the near future (e.g.,  if you want to beta test with your class, organization, or camp group – get in touch!)





Thoughtful pausing: An attempt.

I read some great things this morning over on a site called Brain Pickings. There’s a great post about Willa Cather and her decision to leave the corporate world in favor of a quiet life. Here’s an excerpt from a letter  from her friend (The writer) Sarah Jewett:
…you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself.
Willa was working in journalism and moving fast. Yes, deadlines, but also being a woman in a male-dominated industry must have been pretty exhausting. The bit in Sarah’s letter that reads “what might be insight is only observation” resonates with me. I rush a lot –not a super unique experience, I know. But how much do I miss in living, and in writing, by moving too quickly? I risk not taking time really see things, hear things, and feel things.

It’s a great time of year to think about what we’ve done, and what we want to do. I want to take more time to listen to the world and myself. I want to open up to possibilities and expansion. Live beyond screens, alarms, deadlines, and schedules. Play more. See more trees. Run with my kid more. Run more, in general.
I just finished a draft of my second book, so I have a great pause to explore before I get my first round of edits back. I’m going to do my best to fill it thoughtfully. There is a mile-long list of things that stand staunchly in the way of this endeavor, but trying is something.

willa cather

Willa Cather, from Wikipedia

New Author Website! And a sneak peek…

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and there are a few things to report.

  1. This space is now a part of – my author website! I’m so excited and thrilled with the work that the FABULOUS web developer Mike Robinson has done to get up and running!
  2. THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE has a cover. It’s here!
  3. The generosity of my fellow authors, friends, and even one of my TV icons (!!) has been staggering. We’ve collected some really tremendous testimonials. Fun fact: I cry every time I read a new one.
  4. I visited my mom’s class of 6th graders to talk about writing and had the most fun ever. I’m really looking forward to school visits as we move forward. I have some super fun workshop ideas!!
  5. I’m THISCLOSE to finishing my first draft of book 2. In fact, I’m hoping to be done today. It may contain the following: meatball subs, red witches, and a student run radio station. I’m having fun.

BONUS TRACK! Here’s a little sneak peak of some of one of my characters as illustrated by Kris Aro McLeodizzy button

Update: Short and sweet or TALL AND BITTER?

Hey everyone! Just a little update.

Right now I’m:

  • Working away on THELMA BEE edits. This is happy work!
  • Planning a new author website! I’m working with the awesomely creative Mike Robinson of Portable Heroes* fame. We should be launching sometime in September.
  • Getting super excited about a project that Mighty Media Press has in the works for THELMA. I’m going to keep it secret for now, but stay tuned 🙂

Also, I’ll be a guest on Parenting Your Human at the Riot theater on August 7th – wouldn’t it be fun to hang out!? Come join us!

I guess there’s nothing tall or bitter about this update, sorry for the false advertising.6_20Cinnamoroll_20Cab_original

cute pastries via

*Portable Heroes is my husband’s high school rock and roll band. This is a true thing.

Super fun book news!


My novel THELMA BEE has found a home!

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 8.44.18 AM

(Much like my idols, Peg + Cat – I’m totally freaking out!)

I’m excited to announce that the lovely people at Mighty Media Press will publish THELMA BEE in September 2016. I’m in super-love with the vision that Lauren Kukla and the rest of the Mighty Media crew have for the book and series to follow. I just feel lucky and happy and OMG IT IS HAPPENING!!!

Approximately one bajillion thanks go to wonder-agent Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary. Also, my husband Ryan who has put up with my checking email every five minutes for months. He’s incredible.

I’m so excited for this new chapter. Thank you, everyone!

To Moms

I can’t believe we can do this, guys, but we’re doing it.

Moms, you are cool. Even if you didn’t get to wash your hair today and you have the theme song from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse stuck in your head – you are so cool. Even if you’re wearing yoga pants with weird banana stains on them. Even if you feel like you don’t have enough time, and the time you do have is sometimes too filled with rushing. You’re cool.

Moms, you’re crafting moments of joy and learning and you’re softening times of hurt and pain. Sometimes you’re annoyed and freaking out because your kid does stuff that might hurt him, but those annoyed moments are important  and part of the equation too. You’re working on your own, or in a team to build the bedrock of your kids’ lives and it’s wonderful.

You’re worrying. A lot. Maybe so much that it’s just a din in the background now. Maybe worrying is like a white noise machine only it’s techno music and it has fangs. It beeps and blaps loudly at you in the middle of the night. But you know it’s because you love so much.  You’ve got to think there’s something incredible about an emotion so strong that it can hulk-smash its way around your whole life.

Moms, when you teach, comfort, re-direct, and model behavior for your kid, you’re painting the landscape of their awesome little psyches. Look – your kids are awesome.

Please feel proud. And tired. And joyful. And exhausted. But definitely feel proud. And take a minute to reflect on how cool you are. You are so flipping cool, mom.

(Happy Mother’s Day)

flower__high_resolution_wallpaper_for_tablet_ image from

Good Stuff Friday

It’s Friday and it’s almost May. Feels like a good time to send out some virtual high fives.

  • Audiobooks. Recently starting a job with a long commute, these have kept me sane and actually looking forward to long drives. My life is many, many books richer due to the wonder of Audible.
  • Writers on Twitter. You guys, it’s incredible how unique the query-to-publication process is and the community of writers that I’ve discovered on Twitter has been such a support over the past few years. I’ve been able to connect with people in different states, with completely different lives than I have – and we can create a meaningful connection through shared experience. It’s incredible.
  • The Fabulous Twos. My kid is hilarious. The words are coming so fast, and her sense of humor is developing in this magical way. Yeah, we’ve got tantrums like anyone else, but I love this age. She does this bit where she makes her duck say “meow” – like a CAT even though it’s a DUCK. Ridiculous.
  • The slightest, most subtle hint of Spring. I will take it. It’s colder than normal for this time of year, but shoveling is OVER. Summer is around the corner. We did it, New England. We did it.

I hope you have a stupendous weekend.


  • photo from

You got this.

MC Baby DJ

My daughter loves music. She jubilantly shouts requests at me from the backseat of the car, or the tub, or her crib –

– “Jumpin’!” = See How I’m Jumping Jumping Jumping (A fave from her music class)

– “Come!” = She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain

– “Be Back!” = Bring Back My Bonny to Me

She’s literally never once asked me what I feel like listening to. Unbelievable.

BabyMusicImage from

It brings me an incredible amount of joy to hear her sing, see her smile and bop…but guys, I’m living in a black hole of kid’s music. I didn’t fully realize this until this past week. I found an artist that I love. Someone I hadn’t listened to before, and whose songs are not familiar to me. His lyrics are dark and hopeful and human and twisty. Songs about sex and religion and longing and sweetness and desperation. They took root in my soul and inspired me.

It was kind of a revelation: “Oh my god, I love music.”

I realized that most of what I read, watch, and listen to right now all speaks to the “Mom” piece of my identity. I LOVE that piece of my identity. It’s awesome and bright and strong – but it’s not the whole thing. I actually lived a bunch of years before having a kid and those years were filled with really compelling music and poetry and books and movies.

It got me thinking about making space for the other stuff, and how I should go about doing that. It’s important for me to be as whole a person as I can be, and I think feeding the creative soul is a piece of that.

Lately I’ve been reading a few articles about people who are at war with the term “Mommy”. I agree that it’s jarring to be so completely categorized all the time – but on the other hand, being a mom is a huge deal that’s awesome and takes over your life. I don’t mind it at all. I’m such a mom. All that, in my opinion, is great as long as you nurture the whole person – it’s not an either or as far as I can tell.

I’m going to try (try is all I can do) to make the time to put on headphones and read books that feature story elements other than the alphabet and puppies – at least sometimes.

A Confusion of Michaels

I need to talk about Michael J. Fox, Alex P. Keaton, and Michael Keaton. Maybe I’m not alone on this childhood confusion (I’m probably alone).

When I was younger, I watched the show Family Ties. I thought it was just a sitcom until I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox in which he referred to his character, Alex P. Keaton, as a separate person. Like, “I think Alex is just a normal kid who happens to love republican politics”* As a child, I was confused by this. It seemed that he knew the real Alex and conferred with him.

Family Ties, I concluded, must be based on a real family.

Cut to the 1989 Batman movie. It stars a man named Michael Keaton. It made sense to me that Alex P. Keaton (the real one), inspired by his friend and counterpart, Michael J. Fox, decided to go into acting. He must have changed his first name to Michael, inspired by his Hollywood friend Michael J. Fox.

One problem, this Batman Michael was old. Too old to be Alex. P. Keaton. What happened? How was this possible? I was quietly confused about it for years, more than I care to admit.

Michael-Alex JP Foxkeaton – you may not be a real thing, but you’ll live in my imagination forever as the republican kid who grew up to be Batman.


*Not a real MJF quote.

The Scenic Route

A confession: I love order. I deeply appreciate templates, clear directions, and strong leadership.

(But if a waiter suggests that I try the new iced tea, I will never ever order that even if it is exactly what I want because DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DRINK.)

(Because I’m obstinate, Bostonian, and unreasonable.)

I was thinking about this in the context of improvisation the other day. It’s funny that someone who, on a core level, likes solid structure would be so attracted to an art form in which there can be very little – especially the way that I teach and perform. My philosophy hinges on total freedom, personal agency, and flexibility. Make it work, or throw it gleefully to the dogs.

I’m coming to understand that this is probably a subconscious overcompensation. I know deep down that one of my major lessons in this life is “the world can not be controlled”. Additionally, no matter how clearly I’ve visualized something, it could go off the rails.

My mom used to say that I get to things sideways. I set a goal, but take the scenic route for one reason or another. I’ll spend a semester at another school, take up a major that I’ll get tired of and switch. I circle. It was frustrating for me for a long time. But I’m starting to internalize the Bilbo Baggins (possibly Aerosmith) lyrics – “Life’s a journey, not a destination” also, “Walk this way” – like, when I’m walking places. That one is definitely Tolkien.

The summation of this line of thought should be, “So, when you end up where you belong…” but I reject that. You already belong right where you are. You belonged the whole time! Weird!

kosteckishaw_aroundtheworld-1Art by Jennie Kostecki Shaw:



Also, try the new Peach Iced Tea – JUST KIDDING THAT’S THE WORST.