Archives for 2015

Free Workshop for Children’s Writers

Come join us! The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is sponsoring our FREE program in the Atlanta area. We’ll talk about writing, answer your questions, and share tips and ideas. Refreshments will be served.

WHAT: The Ups and Downs of Writing Children’s Books: 
A Workshop For Children’s Authors (And Everyone Else)

WHEN: Dec. 12, 2015, 1 to 3 p.m.

WHERE: Stonecrest Library, 3123 Klondike Rd, Lithonia, GA 30038 
Phone: (770) 482-3828

WORKSHOP SPEAKERS: Connie Fleming, Nancy Craddock, Lynn Coulter and TK Read

SPEAKER/TOPIC: Connie Fleming: Walking on the Edge: Conflict in Children’s Writing

 A former UCR Crime Analyst with Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Connie now spends her days and nights writing, illustrating, and speaking at schools, libraries and churches. Into every life must come some conflict, and no story is complete without it. Learn how to insert the right amount of tension to move your story forward.

As a very health-conscious senior adult she also writes about wiping out obesity, with a healthy dose of her own brand of humor and Christian wisdom.
Her website is Connie Fleming and her weight-loss blog can be found at The Acceptable Sin.

SPEAKER/TOPIC: Nancy Craddock: Warnings from a Self-Pubbed Author
 If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you can save yourself a lot of angst (and money) from someone who did it all wrong!

Feeling as if she’s always been peering over the top of an open book, Nancy is a keen observer of life. Each chapter of her own life has been centered around books, schools and libraries. As a child, Nancy’s happiest days were either playing “school” or “library” with a neighborhood friend. As an adult, she’s diligently worked to foster a life-long love of books in elementary students from Baton Rouge, LA and Houston, TX, to Atlanta, GA.

Whether her students were a diverse group in a inner-city school, wealthy children of cattle barons or the sons and daughters of hard-working middle class parents in the suburbs, Nancy learned that shared laughter is always a unifying factor in any classroom and a humorous children’s book was never far from her reach.
Writing contests, magazine articles and hand-written notes, emails and long distant phone calls from editors will always be a thrill but Nancy is quick to say that she gauges her success by timid youngsters who’s whose eyes barely meet hers when they say “I like your book” at various book events. That is all the proof she needs to know her life has been, and continues to be, the most fabulous fairy tale she could ever imagine. Her website is Nancy Craddock.

SPEAKER/TOPIC: Lynn Coulter: Make Money By Writing Nonfiction

Even if your goal is to publish a novel, you can earn money writing nonfiction books and articles while you work on it. The Web, for example, consumes enormous amounts of information, and someone has to write that content. Why shouldn’t it be you? Learn how to break into print and digital publications for children and adults with freelancer and author Lynn Coulter.

Lynn Coulter writes for She’s also a freelancer with a B.A. in Journalism and the author of 3 books: Gardening with Heirloom Seeds; Mustard Seeds (Publisher’s Weekly starred review); and Little Mercies. Lynn has served as a contributing editor for Delta Sky and U.S. Airways Magazines, and she’s written for Ranger Rick, Southern Living, Jack and Jill, Delta’s Sky 4 Kids, Pockets, The Home Depot Garden Club, Southern Living, AAA Traveler and other publications. Currently she’s writing a novel for middle-grade readers with the help of her loyal office assistants/rescue dogs, Miss Paws and Molly. This is her website.

SPEAKER/TOPIC: TK Read: Light Fires Beneath Your Book Sales

Whether you’re self-pubbed, indie-pubbed, or traditionally pubbed, you need to market your book to make sure your sales soar! Learn promotion tips and tricks, and the best place to put your marketing efforts and dollars from TK. We’ll go over promotion ideas for small, medium, and large budgets!

 TK is an attorney by day and a writer in the wee hours of the morning. She downs coffee and chocolate, and pens young adult thrillers and middle grade fantasies. A life-long student, she also signs up for every class she can fit in her schedule – that way when her teens are going on-and-on about their tough courses, she can match them moan-for-moan. TK co-authored the book, 100 Small Fires to Make Your Book Sales Blaze! with her marketing whiz sister, Kathleen Vrona. Visit TK at TKRead.

Fall Leaves


No need for many words today, when the trees are turning such brilliant fall colors.


Don’t rake your leaves and burn them–that’s such a waste. Pile them in an out-of-the way spot and turn them occasionally to help them decompose. They’ll make good mulch later. Or save a handful and dip them in melted wax. String them with a needle and invisible thread, and hang them in a window to enjoy. Your leaves will last for many weeks!

Dogtology: A Bone-A-Fide Book Review


Dogtology: Live, Bark, Believe, by J. Lazarus, is simply terrific. I loved this laugh out-loud look at canines and our obsession with them.

The author really has us pet-parents nailed. We are smitten with our fur-babies, and see them as our perfect companions because they’re non-judgmental, loving, playful, and accepting of all our human failings.

I like to say my rescue dogs rescued me, and they did. They pulled me out of my empty-nest slump and licked me into shape again (literally licked me, with their long, wet tongues). Four enthusiastic paws up for this book! I’ll recommend it to anyone, especially cat-lovers.

I received my copy of this book from Netgalley, but my opinions are bone-a-fide, so to speak.

Image courtesy of Greenleaf Book Group


Burpee Festival 2015

I just got back from Burpee Fest 2015–and it was awesome. I was invited as part of a group of garden writers, photographers, and chefs who toured Burpee’s historic Fordhook Farm, in Doyleston, PA.

One of the highlights of the visit was getting to sample Burpee’s fresh fruits and veggies. George Ball, Burpee’s owner and CEO, told us about a new eggplant, ‘Meatball,’ that’s coming out in 2016. (You heard it here first–it’s not even on their website yet.) He says it’s going to revolutionize the way we eat, because it’s a delicious, nutritious substitute for meats.

After the tour, we sat down to a lunch prepared with foods harvested from the farm. Take a look at my plate, below, and you’ll see ‘Meatball’ made into a meatloaf/meatball dish topped with marinara sauce. I will definitely make this at home, once I get my hands on the seeds.


The other delish foods on my plate were fresh from Burpee’s organic gardens, too. You’ll see stuffed yellow peppers, sliced orange tomatoes, and a tasty relish made with purple onions. Later, we snacked on slices of cold watermelon, cantaloupe, and the biggest, sweetest blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

That afternoon, we had time to roam around Burpee’s flower gardens. Check out these rudbeckias:


Butterflies and bees floated around Burpee’s “Happiness Garden” (the bees didn’t bother us at all. They were too busy enjoying the flowers.) Bees and other pollinators are disappearing at an alarming rate, putting our food supply in jeopardy and upsetting the delicate environmental balance. To help reverse this scary trend, Burpee partnered with the White House to give away over a million packets of butterfly and bee-friendly seeds. You can help spread the buzz, too, by planting flowers like the ones below:





And of course, a butterfly garden needs butterfly bushes.

butterfly bush

Butterfly Bush

Moving along to the kitchen garden at Fordhook, here’s a sneak-peek of a new tomato that Burpee hasn’t named yet. Watch for it in 2016, too.


Don’t forget to order your seeds for next spring early, as soon as seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. Popular varieties sell out fast!


Making Quilts, Writing Books


Now I see why so many people get hooked on quilting. It’s all those fantastic fabrics, with their beautiful colors and designs.

Right now, I’m working on a picnic blanket quilt that uses the Bugapalooza fabrics designed by Jennifer Jangles. I may back it with a waterproof material, since this will be used on the ground, or maybe a heavy twill or canvas, as Jennifer (whose real name is Jennier Heynen) suggests. You can find her instructions for making your own picnic blanket here.

After putting words together all day for the middle grade novel I’m writing, Whistling for Elephants, piecing a few cloth squares is a welcome break. My eyes are hungry for colors beyond the black and white of the printed page, and for patterns that aren’t just blocks of text on a computer screen.

But even while I’m quilting, my brain is churning with plot ideas, and I’m trying to think up new descriptions and snappy dialogue to make my characters come alive.

Writing for children isn’t easy. You’ve got to remember what it’s like to play and forget the distractions of being a grown-up. This week, my distractions have included paying for a new car transmission, learning to cook for someone on a very restricted diet, cleaning the house, walking the dogs (who shed so much in the summertime heat, they double my housework), and–well, you get the idea.

A few weeks ago, my agent asked me to write a new outline for my book, to help me double its length and dive deeper into the story, and I’ve just finished it. Now I’m waiting for his comments before I start writing again. This agent has a strong editorial background, and I’m grateful for his guidance.

To be honest, I wish the writing work was done, but there’s more ahead before my manuscript is ready to submit to publishers.

Sometimes I get discouraged, because I’ve worked on this book for so long. In some ways, writing is like making a quilt. You make a block for your quilt; you scribble a paragraph for your book. Next you join the blocks into rows, and the paragraphs into chapters. Eventually, you stand back and look at what you’ve got and decide whether you need to add more here or take away something there.

When you finally see the pattern you’re aiming for, and it pleases your eye and heart, you know your work is finished.

Book Review: The Methods of Breaking Bad


Were you a fan of Breaking Bad? Here’s a review I just posted on about a collection of essays on that groundbreaking show:

Breaking Bad, a television show that ran from 2008 to 2013, was popular, well-written and executed, and thought-provoking. This collection of essays about the program, edited by Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood, is an interesting and in-depth look at its characters and their motivations and morals.

However, The Methods of Breaking Bad: Essays on Narrative, Character and Ethics, is written in an academic style. At times, I felt some of the chapters were a bit dry, and they probably won’t appeal to readers who lack the inclination or energy to focus on the serious and complex issues the book addresses, such as health care, politics and scientific ethics.

I also wonder if this book will find a lot of readers now that no new episodes are being made. As a writer, I was interested in the ways it studied character development in fiction.

If you were a fan of the show, or you’re looking for insights on creating fascinating characters and plots, I recommend this book. Readers looking for lightweight or beach-type books may want to pass.

I received a free copy of this book from, but my opinions are my own.

Front cover images © 2015 iStock/Thinkstock; Used by permission of McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers.

Book review: If You’re Lucky

Courtesy Algonquin Books for Young Readers
Plan on staying up late if you choose IF YOU’RE LUCKY, by Yvonne Prinz, for a bedtime read. This young adult novel, which goes on-sale in October 2015, is a quick read and a gripping thriller.

It’s the story of 17-year-old Georgia, “George” to her friends, and the aftermath of her brother’s drowning while surfing in Australia. Losing a sibling would be tragedy enough, and her brother’s nickname, Lucky, belies his fate. But George also suffers from mental illness, and her meds leave her feeling isolated and alone. (And isn’t adolescent a time for those kinds of feelings?)


Then handsome, enigmatic Fin shows up, saying he was a close friend of Lucky’s, although George had never heard of him. Fin charms his way into her family’s life, even earning the devotion of their dog, and begins to romance Lucky’s girlfriend.


She starts to question whether he might have murdered Lucky, just to take his place. I won’t give away the specific nature of George’s mental illness, which isn’t revealed until the tension starts to build. The reader is left to ask: Is George right about Fin? Or is she delusional and paranoid?


In many ways, this feels like a Patricia Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But Prinz has written her story in an easy-to-read style, with brief chapters and short, simple sentences, that most young adults will breeze through. (I wouldn’t have minded if the writing had been a bit more complex or challenging, but that’s just my preference.)


My only real criticism–and this isn’t much–is the use of the name “Lucky,” and how it played into the title and resolution. It felt slightly gimmicky, to me. But I did think that George’s objections to taking her meds–and sometimes, her outright refusal to take them–rang true, from what I know about mental illness. She’s a realistic and believable character, and you find yourself rooting for her.  I received this book as an advance reading copy from the publisher, but that has not influenced the opinions I’ve expressed here.


Image courtesy of Algonquin Books for Young Readers

G2B 2015


Don’t you love a reunion? It’s a chance to see old friends, catch up on what everyone’s been doing,  and share great food and and stories. I’m excited that I’ve been invited to P. Allen Smith’s upcoming Garden 2 Blog event, a reunion of garden bloggers from around the country.

Each year, Allen hosts this get-together at his beautiful home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Sponsors like Bonnie Plants and Jobe’s Organics will be there, leading workshops on new plants and garden products.

When we get home, we’ll share what we’ve learned, because that’s what garden bloggers do: we lean over the back fence—although it’s a “virtual fence” these days–and tell our friends how to banish Japanese beetles, harvest bigger, tastier tomatoes and train wayward roses on trellises.

In the meantime, please check out my gardening articles on, where I’m a regular contributor.

hydrangeas in Suzanne Hudson's garden

Love hydrangeas? Find the perfect plants to grow here.


Need easy-to-grow flowers for a summer garden? Zinnias like these attract butterflies. Click here for more info.


You can grow blueberries even if you don’t have much space; plant dwarf varieties.

Go Play. Seriously.


Here it is: your permission to take a day off.

Stay in your pjs and binge-watch Game of Thrones or make chocolate cookies and eat two (at least).  Finish a book, or start one. Walk the dog or take a nap, ride a bike or shop for new shoes. Set the table with a fancy cloth and candlesticks, plant petunias in the yard, or practice your putting.

Yeah, I know. Who am I to say it’s okay to play instead of work?

Think of it this way: I’m not really the one giving you permission. YOU have to do that.

But if you have trouble letting go of whatever you normally do from 9 to 5, I’m here to cheer you on, because I have the same problem.

Yet we’ve gotta play sometimes. Too much work doesn’t light any sparks under your writing. In fact, fatigue and stress and pressure throw a bucket of cold water on inspiration, and it melts away, Wicked Witch-like, and disappears.

Right now, I’m in a good spot. I’ve got work to do, but I’m ahead of schedule, so I took a play date.  I spent a few hours sewing, and I made the little cupcake pincushion you see here. It’s based on this one, created by Vanessa Goertzen, a quilter and fabric designer who blogs at Lella Boutique.

(Unfortunately, no one replied when I wrote to ask if there was a pattern, so I improvised. I used cardboard for the base and a fabric cylinder for the body. Pink rickrack trim and felt flowers stand in for icing and decorations.)

It’s not perfect; actually it’s kinda lopsided, like most of my real cakes. But I loved the fabric colors (it’s Moda’s Into the Woods), and I had fun making it.

I admit, most of the time, I feel guilty about playing, as if the only good day, the only valuable day, is one that results in a paycheck.

But that’s soooo not true. I’m learning that if you want to live a creative life, you have to let yourself off the hook sometimes. Making a pie or making a pincushion, stringing beads or baking bread are all worthy pursuits that can re-fuel your spirit and help you become more productive in the long run.



Author Meg Medina’s Writing Prompts


Latina author Meg Medina had some of the audience at the recent Atlanta SCBWI conference in tears. The waterworks started when she gave us prompts to create characters for our children’s stories.

Tuck a tissue in your pocket and try one of these. Just be really, really honest, because, as Meg said, because growing up is tough, and writers need to tell the truth.

Ready? Finish this sentence: “I come from….”

To get you started, I’ll tell you where I come from. “I come from dirt-poor grandparents who lived in Alabama and dropped out of school around the fifth grade to help farm the family land. I come from a father who was the first person in his family to graduate from college (he could afford it only because of the GI Bill).”

Here’s another prompt:  “And so, we meet again…’

One woman in our group completed that one with a paragraph about a man who sped through her neighborhood every night on his way home from work. While he barreled past little kids and startled dogs and stroller-pushing moms, he blasted his horn, non-stop. Then he’d screech to a stop in his carport, stomp inside, and slam the door behind him. She said everybody called him “The Blower.” While you wouldn’t make an adult the focus of a kids’ book, wouldn’t this guy make a fascinating character?

One more. Write your autobiography in just six words. When we did this exercise, many of the writers in the room came up with lovely, even lyrical lines.

Not me. I remembered a tough patch I’d gone through a few years ago, and I decided to look into my own darkness. My six words were, “Her broken pieces are still holding.”

Once I showed some vulnerability, others did, too. More than a few of us had damp eyes by the end of Meg’s talk, which was a good thing, because it meant we were digging deep into our personal truths.

Whether you’re writing about sunny times or desperate ones, Meg says we’re still every age we ever were. The preschooler, the adolescent, the young adult: they’re all still alive in our heads and hearts. Use her prompts to nudge or jolt your memories. Reach deep inside to find emotional connections that will grab your readers.