Slow and Somewhat Steady

My revision is due around the end of this year. In order to stay on track, I need to complete about 100 pages of revision each month.  September almost got the better of me; teaching responsibilities crowded in and pushed the manuscript to the back burner.  Yesterday, though, I finally hit a stride – at least for one afternoon – and was able to cruise all the way past my goal.

I’ve revised this manuscript before, and more than once, but this stage of revision is very different, because my editor’s voice is in the process with me now.  Her 18-page, single-spaced letter stays open while I work, and I revisit it again and again to determine whether I have answered the questions she has set for me.  

I find this new stage of revision to be quite slow.  Every change made has a ripple effect on the rest of the story: some ripples are minimal; others spread all the way to the end of the novel and into the series beyond.

I got stuck a couple of weeks ago on one of those big ripples, as I realized that a character’s nature was being violated by a plot line, and that it would come back to haunt me in the next book if I didn’t figure out how to a) change it or b) justify it.  I tore my figurative hair out over that one, and more than once I muttered “No one cares. I’ll just leave it. It’s fine.”  But they will, and I couldn’t, and it wasn’t.

Immediately after sorting out that particular problem, I continued to revise, and not ten pages later I was snarled again, stuck in my own convoluted mess.  I slapped the laptop shut in a fit of frustration on Friday night, and I may have said a few choice words to Rapunzel about just where she could go and what she could do.  Yesterday, I got over it, and Rapunzel seemed eager to make it up to me, so we flew along together very nicely. 

I have three hours carved out tonight for writing work, and I’m leaving the house to avoid distractions, so I’ll get ahead of my October goal.  Good.  Because if October was anything like September, I’m going to need a head start to get me across that 200-page finish line.


I was that parent at preschool this morning, snapping endless pictures of my son.  It’s his first day of school, and I want there to be a record.  Something tangible and permanent, something within my control.  He is out of my control now, and for the next two hours, he’ll be in an environment I didn’t plan or organize, learning from people I don’t really know.  I guess I should be used to this, from daycare, but daycare has felt like an extension of home (it’s an in-home daycare, for one thing), and school feels… different.  Bigger.  Less within my grasp.  I cried last week, after the orientation, because I felt powerless.  Powerless to quit work and be with my son full time or at least to be deeply involved in his preschool, powerless to control the many influences that he experiences outside of my presence. 

Will they love him?  Will they see the strengths in him?  Will they be irritated by the things he can’t do yet?  Will his quirky, solitary nature puzzle them?  Will they guide him gently, will they let him take his time?  I’ve experienced many teachers now, in my teaching career, and I know that some of them naturally see the best in children and are determined to meet them where they are, and others are not cut from that generous cloth. 

I’ve also experienced a lot of kids.  And I know how kids can be to other kids.  I was never much of a winner, socially – not as a kid, anyway.  I had a target painted on my back from the get-go, and it was many, many years before I understood that although I am intelligent, I don’t have the same innate social intelligence as many other people – and socially intelligent people can sense that.  Even really young ones.

I’m scared. 

But it’s just preschool, right?  He’ll be fine.

My other baby, my first novel, will soon be out of my control, too.  It frightens me to think of the many different reactions, good and bad, that people will surely have to it.  It frightens me to lose power over it.  Maybe I’m getting good practice right now, letting my flesh-and-blood baby into the world a little bit.  Surely no book debut, however scary, could be as scary as this. 

One Year Ago Yesterday

On September 4, 2012, I was happy with the book I had written.  I believed in it enough that I decided it was time to start a blog and keep track of my journey toward authorhood.  I believed in it – but I didn’t count on it.  I had no idea how things would shake out.  The question thrumming in my mind for much of the last year was Will this happen? 

Yesterday was my blog anniversary, and I have kept up with this blog just as I set out to do – which is a first.  I haven’t let myself down.  I have sat down and written again and again this year, regardless of whether or not I felt like it – and not just on this blog.  This year, for the first time, I treated myself like a professional writer, and I expected from myself what I believed I ought to expect from a professional writer.

And what do you know?

Yesterday was also the first day of the new school year.  I spent last week organizing my classroom and color-coding my posters, and now the kids are back to make a beautiful, vibrant mess of my efforts.  Middle-school students are like no others.  They pop with life.  They seethe with emotion.  They are on the cusp of everything.  It’s electrifying.

My son also starts preschool this year.  I’m amazed at how fast that tide came in.  I felt like I had so much time before preschool would be upon us.  Nope.  As it turns out, every cliche is true, and my child is growing up much, much too fast.  

So. I am a mother, and I am a teacher (with three preps!) – and now, in a more real and on-the-hook way than ever before, I am a writer.  For the past few weeks, as summer has set, I’ve felt the stress of these responsibilities gathering.  Pressing in.

I am trying not to panic.

The big question thrumming in my head this year is Can I balance motherhood, teaching, and writing, and do all three jobs justice?

Here’s hoping that, like last year, the answer is Yes.

Five Reasons to Read It #11: INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN

I’m reading everything through a teacher-reader lens these days, since class will be in session on Wednesday.  Here’s another book that cries out to be included in any elementary or middle-school library. 
HarperCollins, 2011

Five reasons to read it (and make sure it’s in your school library):

1.  It’s the story of a young refugee and her family that makes Vietnam, 1975 feel like home, and renders the United States (Alabama specifically) a land of strange customs and bizarre food (Hà’s first disdainful interaction with a hot dog is great).  This is an excellent book for social studies teachers to refer kids to if they are discussing the war in Vietnam, because it offers up a sample of everyday life for a regular Vietnamese kid at that time, which will help to balance out the mental picture that students create of that country. 

2. It’s a novel in verse, and the narrative poetry here is beautiful.  The papaya can be tasted, the seasickness can be felt.  The poetry is accessible, as well.  No words are wasted, and Lai’s use of exact, sparing language makes Hà’s emotional journey tense and affecting.

3.  The protagonist suffers in this book – of grief for a father who is M.I.A., of wretched discomfort on a refugee ship, of feeling out of place and being bullied upon reaching Alabama.  Yet there is lightness and heart throughout this book. Hà is a funny, often disgruntled young girl – a victim of circumstance, unhampered by victim mentality.

4. Hà goes from feeling like an intelligent student in Vietnam to feeling like a stupid one in Alabama.  As she wrestles with speaking a new language, both her academic and her social confidence are sapped. For those of us who have never had to adapt to a new language or culture, it is important to be exposed to the stories of those who have.  For teachers in particular, this book is a great reminder of how frustrated and isolated our English-language learners can feel, as they transition into expressing themselves in a totally new format.  Hà makes this frustration palpable.

5. Lai laces her English verse with bits of Vietnamese language.  Not only does this make Hà’s journey and point of view feel authentic, it also gives the book the power to connect deeply with students who also speak both English and Vietnamese, and who may feel, in some sense, that this book is theirs.  Example: I posted a photo of some of my “to-read” books on my Twitter feed, and this title was in the stack.  One of my Vietnamese students tweeted back, “You’re reading the Inside Out book with all the Viet words in it!” Lai’s book must really mean something to her, if she’s that excited to see her teacher reading it.  I’m looking forward to seeing that particular student next week and to asking her how to pronounce everything.  Any book that helps me make a personal connection with one of my students?  Priceless. 

No Place Like Home

I spent the last week traveling with my husband and our small boy.  Our boy will be three in October, and this was his longest trip yet, both in terms of distance and duration.  We crossed the country and were away from home for eight nights, drifting from Delaware to New York to Massachusetts.

Being away from home with a small but highly mobile child was like running a deadly obstacle course for eight days.  Our son likes all sorts of activities that sound like no big deal but are a VERY big deal when a little person is in play.  Some of his favorite things include stairs, water, cars, trains, and touching everything.  He can run (incredibly fast for someone with such small legs), climb, open things, and turn things on.  He can easily get out of his pack ‘n’ play crib (I woke the first night to the sensation of my hair being pulled and rolled over to find him standing by the side of the bed smiling at me like something out of a horror movie).  It all made for a very tiring adventure.

It was wonderful, though.  Some of my dearest friends, who also have young sons, brought them along for a brief reunion, and we got to see our kiddos interact all together for the first time.  I got to see my boy chase fireflies (we don’t have those on the west coast) and splash in the fountain at Washington Square Park, like a proper NYC baby.  He got to eat more ice cream than has ever been allowed, skip his naps, play with Hot Wheels, take bubble baths in a friend’s jacuzzi tub, dance with us at a wedding, eat Di Fara’s pizza in Brooklyn and see the Manhattan city skyline from the F train.  He even learned (because it was how we kept him distracted on the long plane trip) how to play Angry Birds.  Sort of.  He shoots the birds into the ground and then giggles a lot at pig Darth Vader when he loses, which probably seems like winning to him.

This trip was also a milestone for me as a writer, because I got to sit down with my editor and talk shop. I probably said “I have a meeting with my editor at Scholastic next week,” about a hundred times during the week before I left.  Maybe two hundred times.  Certainly far more times than was necessary, and I must have been obnoxious, but everyone has to forgive me while I get used to the fact that my dreams are coming true.  I was – and am – so ridiculously, stupidly excited about everything that’s happening.

Before the meeting, I received my first editorial letter.  I was very scared about this, because I am thin-skinned.  The letter is a cool 18 pages, thanks – but somehow, it isn’t daunting or embarrassing to see the weaknesses of my work exposed.  It’s all laid out with such care, and it’s so constructive, written with only the best interests of the story at heart.  There are hills I am willing to die on, but so far, my editor and I seem to be in alignment about what matters, so no hill deaths are necessary.  She sees the things that I can’t see and asks the questions I can’t be impartial enough to ask, and yet she has absorbed the spirit of the thing completely.  I could not ask for a better guide. 

And now I’m home again, with revisions to make, and a timeline to adhere to – and a full-time teaching job that starts up again tomorrow.  Yep.  Today is the last day of my summer.  The kids aren’t back until after Labor Day, but the teachers are back in professional workshops tomorrow.  Again begins the crazy.  But then, I thrive on the crazy.  And when the crazy is accompanied by new school supplies and falling leaves, crisp air and jeans with sweaters, I can only embrace it.

Still.  For just a few more hours, there’s nothing but the last spoonful of summer and the quiet of home, sweet home. 

Five Reasons to Read It #10: PARCHED

In deciding which of my summer reads to write up next, I thought about all the teachers who, like me, are about to go back to school and are looking for great new literature to introduce in their classrooms.  Middle-school teachers in particular, I strongly recommend that you check this one out: 

Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013

Here are five reasons to read it:

1. It instantly grabs and hooks the reader. Don’t take my word for it, either, read the first three chapters here and then try not to read the rest. (I just reread the first chapter to make sure I’m not overselling this, and I am now covered in goosebumps with tears in my eyes. So.)

2. This is an eye-opening story of daily survival in extreme drought. For those of us who can just hop in the shower or grab a glass of ice water whenever we want, it’s almost impossible to conceive of the struggle to survive in an environment that is literally parched – but that struggle is the daily reality for over a billion people. This book makes that reality immediate and terrifying. Crowder’s language choices powerfully evoke thirst and scarcity. After finishing this book, I felt very, very grateful to be able to turn on the tap. 

3. This book features a very strong girl.  All the characters are strong, but I am always best pleased with a very strong young girl, and this one has good horse sense and great courage flying completely solo (except for the dogs). 

4. If you love dogs, you will love – and probably weep through – this book, which so sensitively depicts the beautiful pack mentality of dogs and the way that dogs are willing to include beloved humans in the pack. 

5.  I loved the way this book dealt in the very bleak and dry, and yet was juicy – the aloe, the sour figs, the horned cucumbers, the cool stones, the grotto pool.  Crowder’s story world is hot and cracked and thirsty, and every small relief she gives her characters is also a small relief she gives the reader.  I was right there with Sarel and Musa and Nandi, savoring every drop of anything moist and then immediately fearing that it would be the last. 

Additional information for language arts teachers:
This is a brief, compelling book, made up of brief, compelling chapters – perfect for a read-together class novel. Daily chapter readings can be completed in class with plenty of time left for shared student responses. Yet, while the book is brief, it is not an easy read. It will challenge young readers’ vocabulary and powers of inference and visualization, as well as demanding them to interact emotionally with the tale – which is harrowing. The deceptive simplicity of Crowder’s spare storytelling, and her specific, lyrical language beg to be deeply explored and discussed.  Better yet for us busy teachers, Crowder’s Teachers’ Guide (©Anna J. Boll, 2013) lays out precisely how the story ties into the English/Language Arts Common Core standards. A lyrical, poetic novel, multicultural and dramatic in content, told from three distinct points of view (one girl, one boy, one dog), this book is a jewel.

Additional information for science and social studies teachers:
This is a timely and relevant story. Cross-curricular ties abound here – ample opportunity for readers to make text-to-world connections. Possible science ties: pack animals (dogs specifically), desert animals, plants that survive in drought conditions, water as a natural resource, sustainable water, invisible worlds of water that exist underground, use of animal bladders to store water, the veracity of dowsing.  Possible social-studies/geography ties: availability of clean water in today’s world, water (or another major natural resource) as a player in the rise and fall of civilizations, mapping the world of water, gang culture. 

Five Reasons to Read It #9: THE WICKED AND THE JUST

I had the opportunity last week to sit down and talk with the author of this marvelous work of YA historical fiction.  She taught me how to pronounce all the Welsh names (emphasis on the penultimate syllable, people), and she spoke with near-fanatical relish about the very creative public humiliations that medieval folks heaped upon each other.  She also gave me the compliment of saying that I “get” her work.  I take this to mean that I am now an authority on this novel, and so you all have to listen to me. Author’s orders. 

Even if I didn’t think J. Anderson Coats was a pretty cool person, I would still highly recommend her debut novel – which is brilliant.  Paperback to be released in September!

by J. Anderson Coats
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Five reasons to read it:

1.  Don’t know anything about 13th-century Wales?  You’re about to.  But you won’t even notice the learning as it happens.  Through the alternating viewpoints of her two teenaged female protagonists, Coats steeps the reader in the daily details of medieval life at Caernarvon castle in such a way that the world is rendered both fascinatingly new and also completely clear.  Her ability to do this reminds me of Karen Cushman’s, and that is no light compliment.

2.  My inner feminist sang and twirled and leaped about throughout this story, for a couple of specific reasons I won’t point out here, because they’d be spoilers.  Let’s just say that medieval times were not particularly fabulous for girls, and I loved the way Coats let both of her girls be real people – constrained by society, yes, but with emotions and desires recognizable to the modern teenager.

3. One girl (Cecily) is privileged and the other (Gwenhwyfar) is oppressed.  Gwenhwyfar is by far the easier to like; the injustice of her situation, together with her humor, her fury, and her loyalty to her family, make her an easy win.  However, it’s Cecily – the oppressor – whose voice is more often heard, and so she, too, must be compelling and lovable.  To make this privileged character sympathetic, one might assume that Coats would make Cecily into quite a nice person – a young saint.  Instead, she’s completely a teenager.  Cecily has moments of common sense and goodness, but she’s blind to the bigger picture.  And yet she is lovable, because she is real – and because those moments of common sense and goodness come at just the right times.

4.  Coats does not sugar coat what power does to people.  Everyone who gets a taste of power in this story abuses it, believing themselves justified.  If you enjoy, at all, a story of power dynamics, then you will gobble this one up.

5.  Do you hate it when authors give you pat endings, wherein everyone learns their lesson, all is remedied and all are redeemed?  Welcome to this book, where the author’s commitment to historical accuracy means that happy endings are impossible.  That’s not to say that one can’t walk away from this book with a sense of hope and satisfaction – I certainly did, because of Coats’s management of her characters and my investment in them as people.  But this is a brutal book.  Awesomely brutal.  Wait, don’t back away – where are you going?  Get back here or I’ll beat you with a cudgel. 

DEBUT! (Gesundheit.)

By Megan Morrison
Tyme Co-Created by Megan Morrison and Ruth Virkus
Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic
Summer 2015


It’s hard to find the words for this post.  I’ve worked for a long time to get to this moment, and now that I’m here, I’m floundering.  There are a million things I want to say.  I want to drown you all in the details of how this awesome thing happened to me.

But you’re busy people, so I’ll keep it simple.

I sold my first book.  My first two books in a series, in fact.  Here is the full announcement.

My marvelous agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, helped me to navigate the deal.  And I can finally name the brilliant editor with whom I am lucky enough to be working: Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books.

This is magic, to me.  Pure magic.  Honestly, I might as well have received a Hogwarts letter and been chosen by a wand from Ollivanders. I can’t breathe right. I found out about the offer four months ago, and I’ve been in a state of gradual-release shock ever since.

I didn’t do this alone. Ruth Virkus built the world of this series right alongside me, and our friendship of more than a decade has been spent, in great part, making this announcement possible.  In an upcoming post, I’ll go into more detail about our co-creatorship and give Ruth the full introduction that she deserves.

Thank you to everyone who is here taking the time to read this.  Your support means so much to me.  If you’d like to sign up for e-mail updates of this blog, I’ll happily keep you posted for the next two years, while GROUNDED transforms from manuscript into finished book.

Right now, though, I’m going to go and punch the air like a maniac while I listen to “We Are the Champions” — really, really LOUD.

Pre-Post Post

I’ve been lazy about this blog, this summer.  But I haven’t been lazy in general.  Spending lots of time with my son has been paramount, and spending lots of time writing has taken a pretty close second.  Writing is going beautifully, mainly because I keep a big stick handy to whack at the bad thoughts.  This novel is stupid. WHACK. The first one was better. WHACK.  You’re a hack, you’re a hack, you’re a hack... WHACK WHACK WHACK.

I’ve also been reading.  I just read an incredible historical YA (I had to get out my big stick several times whilst reading it to whack at thoughts like Oh crap, this is AMAZING, and mine isn’t anything LIKE it, does that mean mine is DUMB?), and I’m excited to write up a new “Five Reasons to Read It” post.  I haven’t done one of those in a while, and this one will be extra delightful for me, because tomorrow night, I’ll have the awesome opportunity to sit down with the author and glean some insight before I write about her work.  
And so!  Stay tuned.  Until we meet again, let’s all keep whacking at the bad thoughts with a big stick and enjoying our creative endeavors, whatever they may be.

My Little Reader

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

My son will be three in October.  He loves to be read to.  He loves to memorize the words and “read” the books by himself; he loves to recite books in the car and in his bed, after the lights are out. 

Little things are starting to happen that make it clear to me that he is moving forward from memorized reading to actual reading, and because books are so dear to me, I find this process to be very emotional. 

A few minutes ago, my son walked up to my coffee mug.  On the mug, it says “All the flavor of New Orleans in a cup.”  He has never tried to read this before; it is unmemorized.  Here’s what went down. 
Boy – “All… the… faaaa”
Me – “Flavor.”
Boy – “All the flavor… of… New…”
Me – “Orleans.”
Boy – “All the flavor of New Orleans… in… a… aaa.”
Me- (Hard “C” sound)
Boy – “Cupa.”
Me- “Cup!  You did it!  You’re reading!”

If you imagine me sniffling and choking up throughout this exchange, then you have it about right.  Then, while I was still getting my emotions back in shape, my son wandered over to Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen and turned to his favorite page.  “MILK IN THE BATTER!” he shouted.  “MILK IN THE BATTER! WE BAKE CAKE! AND NOTHING’S THE MATTER!” And he laughed, and so did I, and then he jumped up an down a lot.

Because reading is AWESOME.

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