Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Friday, June 19, 2015


Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
CRENSHAW is Katherine Applegate's follow-up to her Newbery Medal winner, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. I was lucky enough to read an ARC. It took me just two reading sessions, which is unusual for me (I only have time for personal reading at night, and by then it's hard for me to stay awake long).
I'm still processing all of my feelings about this story, but please know that this is a gorgeous, heartbreaking book that made me smile, and cry, and hope. It is the very best kind of MG book, and I hope it reaches as many readers as possible. It's an important book to share. It comes out on September 22 of this year, and I hope you read it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

NOOKS & CRANNIES release day!

It's release day for Nooks & Crannies!

Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance. She doesn't have a friend in the world, except her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom.

Then, on the heels of a rather devastating announcement made by her mother and father, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted. There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they've been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed— a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

I owe a huge thanks to lit agent Tina Wexler, editor Kristin Ostby, all the folks at Simon & Schuster, cover artist & illustrator Natalie Andrewson, and, of course my beloved critique partners (looking at you Joy, Tara, Becky, and Ann!).

I'll be around the blogosphere this month, doing some giveaways:

June 2: Leandra Wallace's blog

June 5: LitPick on Facebook

June 12: Julia Tomiak's blog

June 17: Literary Rambles (I'm interviewing my agent Tina Wexler and she's giving away a query critique!)

June 18: Project Middle Grade Mayhem

If you don't happen to win, hey, feel free to buy my book! Or ask for it at your local library! There will also be an audiobook out at the end of the month, via Dreamscape. We've sold rights in Germany and France, so those versions should be available at some point as well, if you happen to speak German or French.

If you want more information to decide whether or not this book might be be your cup of tea, you can check out reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus.

Oh! Also out today are three books that I'm dying to read, so check these out as well:


That's all from me~ have a happy June!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nooks & Crannies: One-Month-Until-Release ARC Giveaway!!!

Hi All!

My second book, Nooks & Crannies, comes out on June 2nd and I'll be doing a few giveaways next month on various blogs, but wanted to offer up one of the early copies here. It was pitched to Simon & Schuster as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue. The cover and interior illustrations were done by the very talented Natalie Andrewson.

Here's a summary:

Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance. She doesn't have a friend in the world, except her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom.
Then, on the heels of a rather devastating announcement made by her mother and father, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted. There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they've been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed— a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

So if you don't want to wait a month to find out what sort of secrets are revealed at Hollingsworth Hall, just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway. I'll pick a winner via Random.org on Sunday, May 10th. UPDATE: The winner is Tania del Rio! Congrats Tania! I'll try to get in touch via Twitter and you can let me know an address to ship the ARC to :)

Here are snippets from early reviews:

"Packed with the delicious elements—hidden passages, unexplained noises, suspicious servants—of a traditional British mystery, Lawson’s story will keep readers engagingly puzzled throughout its multilayered twists and tangles... Well thought-out and deftly executed, Lawson’s novel will appeal to a wide audience." -Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW                  

"Original, engaging, and funny.... The writing is beautiful, expertly capturing all the suspense, hope, and love in the story.... A delightful gem that will fly off the shelves."
— School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW                  

"This loving homage to classic mysteries... offers a compelling puzzle, vividly drawn characters, and a clever and capable young detective" -ALA Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

"In the grand tradition of Roald Dahl. . . . A plucky amateur detective, secret passages, exaggerated characters, concealed identities, and dastardly villains equal a swell mystery."            
— Kirkus Reviews

Have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Anniversary! Kick Drum Heart

Today is the anniversary of my marriage~ in honor of my hubby, may I present an incredibly cheesy, lovey-dovey video that somebody put together on YouTube. 

So, no, that's not me and hubby in the video. Nor do we have a dog. Unfortunately. I would like a dog one of these days. Maybe as an anniversary gift. Chris? Are you reading this? Because this one's for you (and also, that dog idea is a good one for a couple of years from now. Feel free to use it. I'll act surprised J.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Writing Middle Grade vs. Young Adult: Interview & Giveaway With Author Robert Kent

I got to know author Robert Kent by reading his popular blog, Middle Grade Ninja (click HERE to read his most recent post, On Heartbreak and Diversity in Traditional Publishing). I read his YA zombie novel, All Together Now, was thoroughly impressed, and interviewed him about it HERE.

When I learned that he would be publishing a middle grade novel, I knew I'd want to read it because A) MG books are what my reading heart beats for the most, and B) I was curious about how an author who writes mainly adult and young adult horror would transition to crafting stories for a middle grade audience. I knew Robert's skill level as a writer, and had a feeling he would nail his MG book. 

He did.

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees takes everything Robert excels at in his books for older audiences--witty writing, fast-paced plots, big questions about humanity, and heart--and plants it firmly into middle grade soil. Three-dimensional characters, great world-building, and a super-imaginative/cool plot make this a great read for you or the young reader in your life. And the book got an amazing promotional blurb from RICHARD ADAMS, author of Watership Down. Yes, wow indeed.

Robert was kind enough to answer a few questions for me on the differences between writing for MG audiences and older readers. *I'm giving away an eBook of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. Just leave a comment on this post to enter. I'll pick a winner via Random.org next Wednesday evening and will update this post. UPDATE: The winner is Dianne K. Salerni! Congrats, Dianne!
How do differences in the ages of MG/YA protagonists impact your approach with characterization? Let's start with Banneker Bones.

Hi Jessica! Thanks for having me back at your blog. You always ask me the most interesting questions. Last time I was here, I said that I try to let the character come from the story and then, once I'm writing it, the story from the character. That's no different for middle grade. In fact, Banneker Bones hijacked my story and made me throw out most of my plans.

The story for Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees was always going to be about Ellicott Skullworth, brilliant, but lonely eleven-year-old, being invited to Latimer City to live with his world famous cousin, Banneker Bones. Once there, I figured the boys would solve a mystery and Ellicott would find a place to belong as Robin to Banneker's Batman. But because I believe in letting my characters make their own decisions whenever possible, I read along with the reader as Banneker attacked Ellicott with a security robot, locked him in a pit, and tortured him in lots of other ways all because Banneker didn't want to share his room.

It's really inconvenient when the hero of your series stops acting like a hero. But ultimately, letting Banneker make his own decision about the sort of character he wanted to be made for a richer story than if I'd forced him to conform robotically to my outline.

And it helps that the tone of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is comedic. When you're going for laughs, characters can be more flexible. For example, Dr. Gregory House, on whom Banneker is partly based and who was himself based on Sherlock Holmes, was a nasty fellow, but was also somehow still the hero of his show for 8 seasons, mostly because he was funny. I didn't set out to make Banneker Bones a jerk, he just was one and I had to find a way to build my story around him so he was still the hero. But Banneker made me laugh more when I let him do things his way and hopefully the reader feels the same.

How did your writing/character approach differ with your books for older audiences, like All Together Now (ATN) and All Right Now? 

Although they were published in a different order, I wrote Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees first and at one point All Together Now was going to be Banneker Bones 3, which in retrospect was a terrible idea. The ending I wanted for ATN wouldn't have worked out in Banneker's world and ultimately I wanted to tell a more adult story with convincing violence, so I switched from middle grade to young adult.

I still knew I wanted to look at the zombie apocalypse from a younger perspective and if I do write another ATN sequel (I'm on the fence), I might include an 11-year-old protagonist with the understanding that the book would still be for older readers. In ATN, Ricky Genero has to be a romantic. The plot demands it from him. The entire story hinges on a protagonist willing to risk his life traveling across the zombie apocalypse to find a cure for his infected brother, and you don't do that unless you're a romantic.

Because Ricky is 15, I tried to show his romanticism in his descriptions of every other female character he encounters (ATN is told in the first person), which made me laugh, as Ricky never met a girl he didn't love.  He's also terribly bitter about his mother's affair and channels his feelings about his parent's divorce into anger against her, because he has a romantic view of morality. Ricky is also obsessed with death, most notably his own, which is understandable in his circumstances.

Supposing I had found a way to tone ATN's violence down to levels acceptable for middle grade (where's the fun in that?) and Ricky were instead 11, the plot would still demand he be a romantic. Instead of talking about the pretty girls, he'd fixate on the adults left in the world as surrogate parents. He might not understand his mom's affair, and so he'd more likely be questing in search of his mother as well as a cure for his brother. Instead of anger, or rather, predominately anger, he'd feel loss for his broken family. He'd still be obsessed with death, but I think he'd avoid talking about it and he certainly wouldn't acknowledge his own death as a possibility.

The situation, the zombie apocalypse, wouldn't change, but the plot would change dramatically because the choices each version of the character would make would be different.

In All Right Now, the protagonist is an adult and a new father, so he's far less fatalistic about his situation and far more practical in the way he deals with things. He's not worried about whether zombies can be cured, so much as can they be kept away from his infant son. I would never try to tell ARN in a first-person journal because Richard wouldn't have Ricky's time to write it. He has a baby to worry about.

Whatever age group you're writing for, I still recommend first figuring out what the set up of your story demands from your character, then allow the character to make your plot decisions for you. If you figure you out what's important to your character, which changes depending on their age, and show them working toward a goal, they'll show you who they are.  

What, if any, are some advantages of writing for a younger audience?

If I'm honest, I write middle grade for love as I make more money writing horror, which I also write for love:) Really, the only reason to write anything is for love.

I've found middle grade to be more challenging to market because younger readers are more difficult to reach without a support system of librarians and teachers most independent authors lack.

The advantage, however, is that a young fan is more likely to sing your praise than an older fan. Many older fans have been kind enough to share my stories on social media and write me to let me know I kept them up late, as though that wasn't what they were hoping for when they bought a horror story.

Younger fans, however, tell everyone about Banneker Bones with an enthusiasm older fans haven't matched. None of my older fans have sent me pictures of themselves dressed up as my characters or illustrations of gadgetry they think Banneker Bones should use in his next adventure.

And statistically, I would argue a writer has a better shot at reaching a wider readership with stories targeted to a younger audience. All adult readers will have first been child readers, but not all child reader will be adult readers. Less morbid, a story for children has a shot at snagging a reader when they're a child and later, when they're reading for their own children. A writer who captures fans when they're young may also be able to later sell them horror stories when they're old enough for them:)

What, if any, are some limitations (aka what “society” might deem as MG no-nos) that you encountered when writing for a middle grade audience?

I don't suppose I come off in the best light if I keep talking about my love of violence, but if I were truly worried about that, I wouldn't have published Pizza DeliveryGiant robot bees are wonderful monsters and a part of me wishes I could bring them into an adult story to really show the destruction they could cause.  However, the plausibility of giant robot bees, or lack thereof, is better suited to a story for younger readers, who are used to irrational stories about giant peaches and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other things difficult to pull off in a realistic story for adults. Therefore, if I have a plausible monster, it goes in a horror story, and if I have one no one's going to actually believe in, I pit it against Banneker Bones:) I'm bumping into the same issues with alligator people in book 2.

That being said, I didn't leave any essential content out of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees just because I'm targeting younger readers. The bees still stab one character with a stinger and badly murder another, even if it's "off-screen." After a nasty fight, Ellicott catches his parents kissing in the morning, implying they've had a good evening of making up.  I think the worst thing a writer can do is think of their story as being just for kids, as adults will read them as well and I always try to keep my older readers in mind.

Is there any additional advice you might offer a YA or Adult author who’s looking to start writing middle grade fiction?

It's a cliché, but there's a reason for it: read everything you can and when you can't read, listen to audiobooks. I started the first draft of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees at the same time I started my blog, www.middlegradeninja.com, where I review middle grade books and interview authors. That's not a coincidence. I wanted to be an expert on middle grade fiction before I published a middle grade book.

I've read more books about zombies than I ever cared to, but it would've been irresponsible to publish All Together Now without first knowing what stories zombie fans had already read (and movies and television shows they'd seen). It also helped to know what did and did not work in other zombie stories.  The best way to avoid making a mistake is to watch someone else make it first.

If a writer is on the fence about what age group their story should target, I'll say this: if I had an idea for a middle grade story that could also work as young adult, I'd probably bump it up to young adult where it would also snag some adult readers and be easier to market. But I have a one-year-old and I want to share my stories with him, so I foresee a lot of middle grade in my future for at least the next decade.

What are you working on now?
Next up is Banneker Bones' second adventure and a serialized horror novel for adults about a haunted house. I'm excited about both projects and they're different enough from each other that I can switch between them easily. That way, whenever I get blocked on one, I can work on the other without losing writing time. I wasted a lot of time waiting for inspiration before I figured that trick out:)


Robert, thank you so much for your time! Again, leave a comment to win a copy of Robert's middle grade novel Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees.

Fifth grader Ellicott Skullworth has always felt out of place at public school and now he's tested into the Archimedes Program at Latimer University. While in Latimer City, he’ll be living with his world famous and insane(ly) brilliant cousin, Banneker Bones, the eleven-year-old inventor of robots. The only problem: Banneker doesn't want to share his room. And he's got an army of robots to make Ellicott miserable until he goes home.

When the boys are ambushed by robot bees as big as cars, Ellicott's only friend is carried off and held for ransom. To rescue him, Ellicott has no choice but to partner with his maniacal cousin. Ellicott doesn't know what's worse: facing a hive of giant robot bees or spending more time with Banneker Bones.

BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES features original illustrations by Adam Smith. It's a humorous, science fiction adventure for readers of all ages written in the spirit of a comic book.






Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Love & Giveaway: Becky Wallace's THE STORYSPINNER

Tomorrow, March 3rd, is a very special day for a very special lady. My dear friend Becky Wallace has written a gorgeous, intriguing, thrilling YA Fantasy called The Storyspinner. I was lucky enough to read early drafts of this book and cannot wait to get my hands on the hardcover. I preordered 2 copies and will be giving one away. Just leave a comment and consider yourself entered! I'll choose a winner via Random.org and will update this post one week from today.
UPDATE: Random.org chose comment #6, which means Natalie Aguirre has won the hardcover of The Storyspinner! Congratulations, Natalie~ I know you'll enjoy it! Please email me with the address where you'd like the book sent.


Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected.

In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure.

The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna.

With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.


“This tale of murder, kidnapping, and magic held me from start to finish!”
~Tamora Pierce, NYT Bestselling author of The Will of the Empress, The Circle of Magic, and The Circle Opens quartets

“Becky Wallace couples a classic romance with cut-throat political intrigue and wraps it in a detailed and enthralling magical world. I can’t wait for the sequel.”
~Cinda Williams Chima, NYT Bestselling author of The Heir Trilogy and The Seven Realms series


In second grade, Becky Wallace had to sit in the corner because she refused to write anything except princess stories and fairy tales (and because she talked too much). Her time in isolation gave her plenty of opportunities to dream up the fantasy worlds she’s been dabbling with ever since. She was lucky enough to find her own real-life Prince Charming. They have four munchkins and live in happy little town near Houston, Texas.

Becky on TWITTER

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Writing Craft: Joy McCullough-Carranza on BLOOD/WATER/PAINT and plays vs. novels

Alex Highsmith: Joe Iano Photography

I am lucky to be blessed with wonderful critique partners. The women in my writing life are supportive, hilarious, well-read, and fiercely intelligent. Because of that, I wasn't a bit surprised when Joy McCullough-Carranza told me that the play she'd let me read a version of years ago (the play of her heart!) was going to be produced in Seattle. Joy writes middle grade and young adult fiction as well (she is repped by the fabulous agent Sara Crowe), but plays are where she got her start.

Michael D. Blum: Joe Iano Photography
Many of my blog readers are writers of novels. As such, unless we get a movie deal along with a book deal, there is little chance of us ever seeing our characters come to life in person. For a writer, seeing your story unfold in front of your eyes has got to be magical. Joy has been kind enough to answer a few questions about that magic and about the creation process behind it.


BLOOD/WATER/PAINT is an unflinching retelling of the true story of Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter whose story unfolds through interactions with the women featured in her most famous paintings and the process of teaching her daughter to paint, and culminates in her fierce battle to rise above the most devastating event in her life and fight for justice despite horrific consequences.
*Photos scattered throughout this post may look like paintings, but they are all beautiful press photos created by Joe Iano*

Ana Maria Campoy, Alex Highsmith, Evelyn DeHais. Joe Iano Photography
What is the creation process and revision process for your plays, and how does that differ from how you create children’s novels?

I wrote plays for fifteen years before I switched to fiction, and when I did, I was overwhelmed by the sheer word count of novels. A full-length play is much shorter than even a middle grade manuscript—my play that’s being produced is under 12,000 words, for example. (It runs about an hour and a half, so even a three-hour monster of a play is only around 25K.) So the sheer word count of a novel was overwhelming and I needed to outline at least a few chapters at a time and think in terms of manageable steps to keep myself moving forward when writing fiction.

With plays, I don’t outline, and I definitely don’t think in terms of word count. (I had to check that word count of my play.) I do a lot of interweaving time periods and storylines in my plays, and it’s a kind of instinctual, rhythmic thing that I don’t think I could plan. Playwrights are more aware of page count, with the general rule that 1 page = 1 minute of stage time. But otherwise, the creative process is similar, even if the craft itself is quite different. And both share those lovely cycles of excitement, doubt, self-loathing, hope, etc. (And lots of rejections!)

Daniel Christensen & Alex Highsmith: Joe Iano Photography
Once I have a draft of a play that I feel really solid about—the point at which I would send a draft of a novel to you for critique, lovely CP—I usually get a group of actor friends together to read it aloud for me. Hearing it aloud teaches me things (I do read my novels aloud by myself, but that’s more for a micro-level polishing pass, whereas this early read of a play gets at bigger issues), and getting feedback from smart actors is hugely helpful. (I should say that having a play draft read aloud by anything less than wonderful, professional actors may not be all that helpful and in fact may be harmful. Teaching playwriting in high schools, I’ve heard really wonderful scenes sound absolutely terrible in the voices of untrained actors. And I suppose the reverse of that is true—I know some actors who can make even scenes that aren’t quite working sound great.)

What elements of your fiction writing are most influenced by your background as a playwright? And vice-versa, please.

I find dialogue super easy, and I’ve been told the voice in my fiction is strong, probably because even in third person, I sort of think of fiction as one giant monologue. My fiction is extremely spare in its description, since playwrights get to leave all that visual stuff to the director and designers, unless it’s super relevant to the plot.

Alex Highsmith and Annette Toutonghi: Joe Iano Photography
As for fiction influencing my playwriting, I can’t really say, since I haven’t written a brand new play since I started focusing on fiction. (The play being produced now pre-dates my fiction writing.) I am in the early stages of developing a new play, and I find myself thinking in terms of many more characters and settings than I should for a play, which is not like a novel in its ability to go to every setting and show every single relevant character who might intersect with the story.

Out with it: which is a more enjoyable process for you, writing novels or writing plays?

This is a really serious toss-up. For the last few years that I’ve been focused on fiction writing, I’ve thought it had to be the winner, for the obvious reason that I get to live in my Ravenclaw sweats and never leave my house. (Also, in all seriousness, the amazing community I’ve found among kid-lit writers puts some serious points in this column.)

But right now I’m in rehearsal for a play—and I should note that having a play in production is distinct from the process of sitting home and writing the play, but still—and I am reminded of how unparalleled the collaborative aspect of theater is.
Joy watching rehearsals: Joe Iano Photography
No one writes my plays for me, or even suggests what I should write. But when a playwright sits in a room and watches directors and actors work together through the scenes, there is so much to mine there. You can see when something just isn’t working, and whether it’s the fault of the script or not. Actors and directors talk about the characters and their backgrounds and their motivations and you get to steal from them and act like you totally meant that all along. And that’s to say nothing of what designers bring to the process. I’m not the tiniest bit visual (even though I’ve written a play about a painter) and it boggles the mind to see the emails between the designers and director go back and forth, trying to nail down exactly what the easel would look like in Baroque Italy, etc.

Annette Toutonghi: Joe Iano Photography
So…it’s hard to say. I haven’t sold a novel yet. When I have, it may be an easier comparison. Right now I’ve only had the experience of seeing my writing fully realized with plays, so I suppose my first love gets the win (for now).

Again, I'm so thrilled about BLOOD/WATER/PAINT and hope that if you live in the Seattle area, you'll be able to go see it!

SHOW LOCATION: Theatre Off Jackson
DATES & TIMES: February 20th – March 14th 2015

Thu-Sat @ 8pm, &  Monday, March 9th @ 8pm 

(Free Preview Thurs Feb 19th)


Joy McCullough-Carranza is a Seattle playwright with a degree in theater from Northwestern University, where she won the Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award for her play fifty cents in the dark. Other plays include After Midnight, Home/LandChasing MonarchsHiding Hannah, Blood/Water/Paint, Trapped, Mud Angel, and Watching for Wolves, and have been developed and produced in New York, Seattle, San Diego, and Chicago, at Manhattan Theatre Source, ACT Theatre, Washington Ensemble Theatre, Mirror Stage Company, Live Girls, the Mae West Fest, 14/48, Seattle Dramatists, Stage Left Theatre, New Village Arts, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Northwestern University.  She has twice been a finalist for the Actors Theater of Louisville’s Heideman Award.


Annette Toutonghi: Joe Iano Photography

Daniel Christensen & Alex Highsmith: Joe Iano Photography

Alex Highsmith and Michael D. Blum: Joe Iano Photography

Ana Maria Campoy, Daniel Christensen, Michael D. Blum: Joe Iano Photography

Annette Toutonghi: Joe Iano Photography

Annette Toutonghi and Evelyn DeHais: Joe Iano Photography