Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nerdy Book Club--RUBY LEE & ME

I have written a blog post called, "The Teacher Who Inspired RUBY LEE AND ME." You can read it by clicking on the Nerdy Book Club.

In other news, I'll be presenting to a Middle Grade book club on April 25th at Inkwood Books! Mark your calendars for book club at 6:30, with a signing for the general public at 7:00 pm. The address is 216 S. Armenia Avenue, Tampa, FL.

And I've finally ordered bookmarks! Don't they look spiffy? Contact me if you'd like one!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Saying Goodbye--A Eulogy for Daddy's Funeral

            I was reading Facebook and Phyllis Adams had this to say about my dad, “He always had a smile on his face and always made me laugh.” We used that line in his obituary. Thanks, Phyllis. And when I read it, I thought, that’s perfect—I can’t sum up my dad any better than that. Daddy had been really sick for several months, yet when I’d ask him how he was doing, he’d laugh and say, “I’ve been a whole lot better, but I was a whole lot younger.” He never lost his sense of humor.

            I’d like to share several memories that show what kind of a father he was. The first happened when I was in first grade, learning to tell time. He took a big clock off the living room wall and spent an entire morning, turning the hands to 12:00, 1:15, 3:30, and on and on. You wouldn’t think that about him, but when he set out to teach you something, he had a world of patience.

            Fast forward to when I was fifteen years old and learning to drive a car. Our family owned an old station wagon. It wasn’t quite yellow; it wasn’t quite green. It was just ugly. Dad drove that car into the middle of a plowed field and said, “You can’t hurt a plowed field, and you sure can’t hurt this old car, so take off.” As those of you who have taught a teenager to drive know, it takes nerves of steel.

            And then I remember Daddy on my wedding day. We were standing in the back of this church waiting on the wedding march. Sue North and Jennifer Wiseman were playing. Dad turned to me and said, “Are you sure about this? My truck is parked right outside and we can still take off.” He didn’t care two hoots what people would think about it, or that he’d already paid for the wedding. He wanted to be sure I was happy. I told him that I was sure, and we proceeded down the aisle.

            No conversation about my dad would be complete without talking about love. My parents met when he was sixteen and she was fourteen. They’ve been together ever since. I never had any doubt my parents belonged together, and the way Mama took care of him during his illness is my definition of true love.

            There were two other great loves in my dad’s life—our big crazy family and the land he was born on. Once David and I took my parents to New York City. They’d never been and we wanted them to see it. My dad walked around looking up at the skyscrapers. He pointed to one and said, “You see that building? I wouldn’t live there if you gave it to me.” As far as he was concerned, he lived in the best place on earth with the best people. My cousin Tracy says, “Ma Williams knit her boys tight.” My dad loved his brothers. He liked nothing better than going out to breakfast with them and telling big stories to whoever would listen.

            Perhaps the greatest joy of my dad’s life was being a grandpa. Not only to my son, but sort of an honorary grandpa to all the kids in our family. When Alex was little, it was hard to say which one of them enjoyed a trip to Toys R Us more. They wore matching Batman underwear, danced to The Jungle Book, and watched Scooby Doo. My dad was a big kid at heart. And after Alex was older, Daddy liked to give him life advice—mostly about women. Alex, your mom would never steer you wrong, and some of that advice should be taken with a huge grain of salt. My dad was an A Number One grandpa.

            Hands down the biggest sorrow of my dad’s life was when Robin died. It simply broke his heart. I guess none of us really knows what heaven is like, but I can tell you what I hope it was like for my dad, and it was the last words I ever spoke to him. “Robin is waiting for you. Give her a big hug from me.” Enjoy your family reunion, Daddy. We’ll meet you on the other side.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Celebrating Black History Month With RUBY LEE AND ME

I didn't set out to write about school integration. My intention was to pay a simple visit to Mrs. Pauline Porter, my school's first African-American teacher. I wanted her to know what an impact she had made on my life. The visit touched us both.

Mrs. Porter wasn't supposed to be my teacher. She taught first grade in the classroom beside mine, but every afternoon she changed classrooms with my teacher and worked with those of us who were struggling to read. My own teacher didn't have much patience, and so Mrs. Porter was a godsend. But at the time, Mrs. Porter didn't see it that way. She suspected our principal was checking up on her, by sending the white teacher into her classroom. That never occurred to me as a child, but as an adult, I understood her feelings. School integration was hard. By the end of my visit, Mrs. Porter and I weren't sure of the principal's true motive, but we both knew the children she taught had been helped.

My book, RUBY LEE AND ME was inspired by that visit. Over Christmas, I had the privilege to take Mrs. Porter's daughter a copy of my novel. LaVerne insisted on giving me this caroler that Mrs. Porter had painted in a ceramics class. It's sitting in my office as a reminder to write from the heart, to do good work, to make her proud.

Scholastic has compiled this list of new releases to celebrate Black History Month. I think Mrs. Porter would be pleased to see RUBY LEE AND ME on the list.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Scholastic's Mother Daughter Book Club

Scholastic is featuring RUBY LEE & ME as a Mother Daughter Book Club Selection. They've posted discussion questions, a recipe for peach cobbler, and a drawing to win ten copies of the book. You can find more information by clicking here:

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I have been writing for many years, and each Christmas there would be a tinge of sadness because the  gift I wanted most, a published book, continued to elude me. The Christmas of 2012 was different though. That year I held my debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL in my hands. It was magical!

And this year, the Christmas of 2015, is just as special. I met my editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney in New York, and she handed me a wrapped package. Inside was my new novel, RUBY LEE AND ME. It will no doubt be my favorite present of this holiday season.

There is no place on earth more beautiful than New York City at Christmas. Here are some photos from my trip:

 Happy Holidays to you and yours! May you also receive your heart's desire this Christmas season. Here's a picture of my favorite gift, and you can read a description by clicking here:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


This is what a dream comes true looks like!

RUBY LEE AND ME received a starred review from Booklist, and will be published by Scholastic on January 5th. A description and ordering information is available by clicking here:.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More From The WOW Retreat in Helen, GA!

I worked on two historical picture books at the WOW Retreat, and for me, that was the perfect amount of material. It gave me the opportunity to revise at night, and then to get feedback on my revisions at the next day's roundtable.

I had taken a manuscript about a female artist. I've lugged around this idea longer than I care to admit. My first breakthrough came when Candace Fleming spoke about her book, PAPA's MECHANICAL FISH.

Candace wanted to write a non-fiction book, but there wasn't enough historical material to do so. I have exactly that same problem with my artist. Listening to Candace, gave me the courage to abandon telling my story as non-fiction.

At roundtables, the consensus was my manuscript lacked tension. I was at a loss as to how to fix it, and while the critiquers were unanimous this was the problem, they didn't offer much insight as to how to fix it either. Still I left roundtable with a nugget to ponder.

The next day, author Linda Skeers lectured on adding conflict to our manuscripts. I jotted down the words: Tension, Suspense, Drama, Problems, Obstacles, Controversy, Debate, Argument. I needed more of these in my story, but I had gotten so close to it, that I couldn't fathom exactly what needed to be done.

It was a happy twist of fate when I learned Linda had a few critique spots open. I grabbed one. That gave me a fresh set of eyes to read my manuscript, and even better, a writer who had just lectured on adding the very thing my manuscript needed.

Linda said my story had the right elements, but I should get to the problem sooner. We hacked a couple of spreads and rearranged others. I left with a page full of notes and feverishly revised that night. I asked Linda to read my revisions the next morning, and she thought I'd nailed it. BUT…

That afternoon's roundtable was with agent, Jill Corcoran. Jill is not a huge historical fiction fan. She said, "I don't know this person, and I'm not sure why I should care about her." That was great feedback. I had won over Linda, who is an historical fiction fan, but I had work to do to make this manuscript appeal to readers who aren't necessarily fans of the genre.

I settled on the idea, "There was no stopping Henrietta." This is a story about perseverance in the face of sweltering heat, poverty, material shortages, even pirates. By focusing on, "There was no stopping Henrietta," it gives the manuscript universal appeal since everyone has obstacles to overcome.

Due to lectures, roundtables, and critiques, both of the manuscripts I took to WOW are completely different than they were before the retreat. It doesn't pay to revise in a vacuum. That's the beauty of WOW!

If you're a writer interested in taking your picture books to the next level, I definitely recommend WOW. Information for next year's retreat is available here: