A Chance to Uncover the Past

20131115_151532Periodically on this blog I have mentioned a long-term work-in-progress, COLD IRON, the first book in a trilogy set in the Catoctin region of Maryland.  In the process of researching for the book, I was lucky enough to meet archeologist Elizabeth Anderson Comer, who has answered my questions with grace no matter how ridiculous they seemed.  (“Is there enough iron left in the ruins of the Catoctin iron Furnace to melt a fairy?” led to a particularly interesting discussion…)

Elizabeth edited Catoctin Furnace: Portrait of an Iron-Making Village, which was written by her mother, Elizabeth Yourtree Anderson, and she has kept her mother’s legacy of historical preservation alive through her own involvement with the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society.


So when I heard about the society’s newest initiative, I had to donate and help spread the word!   I’ll let Elizabeth take it from here:

The iron furnace at Catoctin Furnace, which made cannonballs used during the Revolution and so on, was first worked by enslaved Africans and African Americans, but this first wave of workers all left the area by the 1840s. As it goes with power imbalances, no one wrote down much about their lives, and, with one possible exception, the whereabouts of their descendants are unknown. Yet their story is integral to the story of early industry, labor in America, and African American history – using bioarchaeology, we can find out what their lives were like, where they were from, and (possibly) where their descendants are. Consider throwing your charity dollars at this IndieGoGo campaign, and, if you can’t do that, share this link as far and wide as you can. I think we can find enough people to crowdfund $14,000 to tell this unknown story – what do you think? Thank you so much in advance for your help!
Here is the link to our campaign:

Rescheduled Webinar: You Have a Great Idea! Now Get it Published!

Due to inclement weather, the webinar below was rescheduled. (Yes, we realize that this is ironic, but did you really want to try to attend a webinar while dealing with your kids being off school?)   Which means that you have another chance to sign up!  Are you a library staff person who wants to write articles or books?  Then check out this online workshop:

You Have a Great Idea! Now Get it Published!

Thursday, March 5, 2015 from 2—3 pm

Platform: Blackboard

Do you want to write a book or article but don’t know where to start? In this 1-hour webinar, three published authors of resource books and articles for children’s librarians will share the ins and outs of getting published in journals such as School Library Journal and with publishers such as ALA Editions and Libraries Unlimited. Learn about the publishing opportunities that are out there for you, what you’ll need to include in your proposal, and how to get from idea to proposal. Join us and jumpstart your publishing career!



Betsy Diamant-Cohen of Mother Goose on the Loose


Julie Dietzel-Glair, author of Books in Motion

Kathy MacMillan, author of Storytime Magic and other storytime resource books

Kathy MacMillan, author of Storytime Magic and other storytime resource books


Registration info: http://www.mdlib.org/calendar_day.asp?date=3/5/2015&event=48

MLA members $15, non members $23, students $13

1 contact hour awarded

NOTE: If you registered for the cancelled Feb. 17 session, you’re still on the list.  If you registered for Feb. 17 and can’t attend on March 5, please contact kmonagan@mdlib.org


Fantasy vs. Reality

Things that I irrationally believe will help me get writing done:

  1. Finding the perfect time of day to write
  2. Lighting a candle (in the perfect scent to match my story, of course)
  3. Complete silence
  4. The perfect music at the perfect volume
  5. Writing at my desk at home
  6. Writing at the perfect table in a coffee shop – away from drafts, speakers, and overly loud conversations
  7. Just the right flavor of tea
  8. My cat purring in my lap
  9. My cat anywhere but my lap
  10. The perfect pair of headphones
  11. Complete solitude
  12. The exciting bustle of people around me
  13. Setting a time limit for myself
  14. Setting a word quota for myself
  15. Searching the internet for images to inspire me
  16. Shutting off the internet altogether
  17. Posting about my progress on Twitter
  18. Avoiding social media entirely
  19. Warm, cozy slippers
  20. A cold drink
  21. Envisioning my book as a bestseller
  22. Writing just for myself and not worrying about what anyone else thinks


Things that actually help me get writing done:

  1. Sitting down at my computer and not getting up until words are written


(Ironically, I procrastinated actually writing by writing this post. Back to work now.)

A Debut Author Photo Shoot in 10 Easy Steps

There’s one piece of this whole publishing a book thing that has caused me an inordinate amount of stress, and that’s getting my author photo taken care of.  I wanted it to be lovely and professional and fun and full of personality, but also look like me.  And the problem is that I am not terribly photogenic.  Animated, yes.  But animated, I have learned, usually translates to weird facial expressions in photographs.  So here’s how I did the author photo shoot thing:

1) Research!  Read the many great articles online to help debut authors, like this one from Mary Robinette Kowal,  or this one from Jennifer Miller, or this one from Heather Hummel .

2) Schedule a session with a great photographer.  This was the easiest step.  I am fortunate to be friends with the incredibly talented Kristin Brown (who did all the photos in my nonfiction book Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together and is responsible for almost every presentable picture of me that exists).  I am pretty sure Kristin would never speak to me again if I had someone else take my author photo.  (Not that I would want anyone else to!)

3) Find examples of author photos you like.  I pulled together some of my favorites and Kristin and I discussed what I liked about them: they all gave a real sense of the author’s personality.  We talked about which settings would give my photo the same feeling.

4) Obsess over what you will wear.  For me this was a real struggle.  As an ASL interpreter, I mostly wear plain, dark colors, so my personal rule is that if I have a non-interpreting day, I wear prints or plaids or stripes.  But those patterns don’t photograph well.  I brought along several options, with the green flowered top my favorite.  And there had to be an engraved necklace to go with it, because both the green and the necklace related to my story.

5) Take care of the hair and makeup.  Probably should have done something fancier, but for me this meant a trip to Hair Cuttery and actually wearing eye makeup for once.

5a) Laugh politely when your 9-year-old son notices your makeup and asks why your eyes look so weird. 

6) Follow directions.  I let the genius behind the camera take the lead.  In this case, that meant driving all over Loudoun County, Virginia, and when she said to get out and stand near a rusty old gate or in a certain patch of sunlight in the middle of the road, I did it.  It also meant waiting out the two women at the good table in the coffee shop so we could get pictures in the beam of sunlight by the window.  Kristin has strict requirements when it comes to photo lighting.

7) Only look at the good pictures.  Let the photographer sift out the bad.

8) If you can’t decide which photo to pick, send your favorites to your editor or agent and get their input.  Then let it go when the picture that is everyone’s favorite has you wearing a plain black top, dressed like an interpreter.

9) Try not to think too much about the fact that this photo is how readers will envision you, and that they will judge you and your book by the impression that one photo gives them.

10) Share the results of your photo shoot and let those beautiful images become your internal self-portrait.  You’re going to need all the confidence boosters you can get in the next year, dear debut author.

A-barndoor4x4300dpi            A-goldenroad4x5300dpi

Books That Made Me: The Queen’s Thief Series

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my “Books That Made Me” series, part of the #SixteensBlogAbout series featuring The Sweet Sixteens’ favorite books and authors.  So far in this little series, I have written about the book that made me evangelical about reading, that books that enthralled me, and the books that launched me into a community of readers.  Today I get to talk about a series of books that is close to my heart – the series that made me want to be a writer: The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.

TheThiefAug05   QueenOfAttoliaAug05   KoA404x612   CoK133x201

Now, I have been writing for a long time, since long before these books came out.  But whenever I finish one of these books, I have an overwhelming sense of “Yes!  The way I feel right now is how I want people to feel after reading something I’ve written.”  And who knows if I will ever accomplish that goal?  But these books are so well-written, so intricate, so engulfing that they inspire me to try.

Every time I reread this series (and I’ll be honest, I have to ration my rereads so I don’t get swallowed by self-doubt and the belief that I will never be able to write anything half so good – in case I haven’t mentioned it, they are really, really good!), I learn new things about character development, story structure, balance of showing and telling.  And yet, even while I am appreciating the artistry, I am entirely wrapped up in the story and the characters.  Megan Whalen Turner is an author who knows how to engage both your heart and your brain.

Come to think of it, I haven’t reread these in awhile….maybe that will be my reward for finishing the current draft I am working on.

And if you haven’t read them?  Seriously, go get them now.  You won’t regret it.

Books That Made Me: The Harry Potter Series

Welcome to part three of my little series about my favorite books and authors, part of this month’s #SixteensBlogAbout topic over at The Sweet Sixteens.

I’ve already written about two of the seminal books of my adolescence, Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes talking to me is probably expecting this post, because I have never been a quiet Harry Potter fan.

Selections from my HP shelf.

Selections from my HP shelf.

Back in 1998, I was on a mock-Newbery committee made up of local children’s librarians. I read hundreds of books that year, and one of those was an unassuming, unknown book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It showed up in the midst of a pile of other books, and I had never heard of it. I was hooked by chapter two, and stayed up all night to read it and recommended it left and right.

And then, well, you know what happened next. It’s easy to forget, now that it’s such a phenomenon, that the first Harry Potter book was rejected by just about every publisher in Britain, that it was released quietly and didn’t gain momentum until kids started passing it around on the playground. I was lucky to be able to read the first book (and the second and third, which I quickly ordered in British editions, as they weren’t yet out in the U.S.) with no expectations and no hype.

When the fourth book came out, I was at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, and I stayed up all night reading it to avoid spoilers. Around that time I also started getting involved in the online fandom, first a listserv called “Harry Potter for Grownups” (where I apparently, accidentally, ignited the HP shipping wars., but that’s another post…), and later at a wonderful site called The Sugar Quill, where I would make some of the best friends of my life. We wrote fanfiction and obsessed over plot details and came together in person from all over the U.S. to create silly podcasts and watch the movies and, of course, read the books. Some of us even got matching tattoos. And our friendships have remained strong even after Book 7.


So, for me, though the Harry Potter books are wonderful stories and I love losing myself in that world, they are also the books that truly made me part of a giant community of readers.   My memories of the books will always be tied up with the people who made experiencing them so much fun.

And, not insignificantly, they inspired me to write. A lot. Mountains of fanfiction, which led to original fiction, which led to where I am now.

Definitely magic.