SCBWI Oregon Conference

There were a lot of inspiring moments at this Spring’s SCBWI conference. But for me some of the best were during Matt de la Pena’s keynote speech.


Matt is the author of Mexican White Boy, Ball Don’t Lie, The Living, and its sequel, The Hunted. He has also written two picture books, A Nation’s Hope and Last Stop on Market Street, which won the 2016 Newberry Medal.

Some of the highlights: that revising is his favorite part of writing. He loves getting the words just right. He also said that it’s tempting for us, as writers, to always want what we think others have: to get an agent, to be published, to receive an award. But it’s important, he added, to be sure to stop and appreciate where we are in the process, whether we’ve finished a draft or written a pivotal scene. No matter where we are as writers, we should stop and celebrate.

I am nearly finished with The Living. My husband is not a big YA reader, but he and I argue over whose turn it was to read the book. The pace is quick and exciting, like a movie. Shy, the main character, is a teenager working on a cruise ship to help his family pay the bills. He has lost his grandma to a gruesome disease, and his nephew has been diagnosed with the same. One night a man tries to jump over the side of the ship. Shy catches him and tries to hold on, but the man slips from his grasp. Just before he dies, the man tells Shy something cryptic. Before Shy can make sense of what’s happened, a catastrophic earthquake destroys the West Coast. The ship is struck by a series of tsunamis. And Shy is fighting to survive in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sharks.

I hope that readers of my stories have trouble putting my books down, that they argue over whose turn it is to read them. But no matter what, I’m going to remember to celebrate every step in the process.



An Interview with Award Winning Author Kirby Larson

Kirby Larson

Kirby Larson

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Big Sky, winner of the 2007 Newberry Honor, and Dash, which won the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Prize. Kirby is known for her historical fiction. We interviewed her for tips on researching. Here are her thoughts:


1)    Have you had to do research for your books?

Yep. Every single one of them! I’ve even done research for the fiction picture books.

2)    Which books did you research?

(see above)


3)    What method of research was best for you? Going to the library, reading about the subject, taking a class, traveling to the site, interviews?

Not to sound flip, but the truthful answer is all of the above. When I’m tackling a topic I know very little about, my favorite thing to do is check the children’s book section for titles on the topic. It’s a great way to give myself an introduction, and to identify next books to read (from the bibliography). My goal is always to keep drilling until I uncover primary sources – letters, journals, diaries, old newspapers/magazines, recipes, songs, etc. I especially love interviewing people who are knowledgable about a topic. I also love traveling to the site if at all possible. For example, with Hattie Big Sky, had I not taken a trip to the Vida area, I never would’ve realized that prairie grass is dotted with tiny cacti. That information gave me new insights when I realized many children went shoeless all summer! The one thing on your list that I have not done as part of my research is take a class. But who knows — that might be next!


4)    How do you fund your research – i.d. personally, grants, contests?

I have self-funded all of my research.


5)    What do you enjoy most about doing your research?

When I was in grade school, I wanted more than anything to be a detective like Encyclopedia Brown. My dream has come true, with one great benefit: no danger! I love finding stories others know little about! And I look at research as trying to understand ordinary people in past times and places; my digging is always to deepen that understanding. I have learned that research can be a form of procrastination, however. Sometimes I keep digging for that one more fact merely to put off starting to write. (I’m working on this vice!)


6)    What do you do when the research doesn’t match your story – do you write to the research or write the research bending to the story?

This is such a great question and tricky to answer. I would say that I rarely bend important/significant research to fit a story. But if the detail is relatively minor (at least in my reckoning) I have changed it. One example from Hattie Ever After: President Wilson actually stayed at the Sir Francis Drake, not the Fairmont, when he visited San Francisco. But if I learned something that would make my basic plot implausible, I would generally revise the story to fit the facts. Prior to writing Audacity Jones to the Rescue, I would have said I would always revise the story to fit the facts. This new book, however, is more of a historical romp than historical fiction so I felt quite comfortable tweaking what actually happened. In that book, Audacity helps to rescue President Taft’s niece, Dorothy, who has been kidnapped; though, for a 24-hour period on January 1, 1910, it was thought that Dorothy had been kidnapped, it turned out that she had only missed a train. I allowed myself to take poetic license and write a story as if she had been kidnapped.

7)    What do you find challenging about researching your project?

Having sufficient time to dig as deeply and thoroughly as I’d like! The book that’s coming out in the fall, Liberty, is the first time I’ve ever had to hire a research assistant. I simply didn’t have more than a few days to spend in the archives of the city of New Orleans and I needed much more time than that. I found a fabulous researcher who really got what I was looking for and proved to be a tremendous help. I prefer doing my own digging but sometimes it’s not feasible.


Liberty will be released on October 11th, 2016.

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Writing and Research

20160430_104530Kristin and I both know that writing books takes a little research…or maybe a lot, depending on the story you’re writing.  And sometimes, that means more than looking up information on the internet or in books.

When Kristin  started writing about Marie Antoinette (or “M.A.”), she discovered that hair played an integral part in M.A.’s life. ;D

She had many styles and stylists. So Kristin and I decided to find out a little bit more about hair styles. There were a lot of illustrations and descriptions in books and online, but we wanted to know what steps the hairdressers had to follow to achieve those amazing styles. So we went to a beauty school to find out some of the things we didn’t know about hair and styles.

So, we sat our butts in the chair and let the hair stylists show us a few things about styling hair back in M.A.’s day.

20160430_105702 20160430_105710 20160430_111530 20160430_111542 20160430_111548 20160430_111550 20160430_114338 20160430_114350 20160430_115225 20160430_115242 20160430_121020 20160430_121024 20160430_121028 20160430_133306 20160430_133324_001 20160430_133335 20160430_133424 20160430_133435 A20160430_133634 20160430_133741 20160430_133758My hair style took three hours to perfect, which gave us something else to think about:  how did these hairdressers do the marvelous things they did without hairspray, bobby pins, clips, curling irons or any of the modern day conveniences stylists have today? That is a true mystery.