Learning Something New and the Women’s World Cup

I love watching soccer, all kinds of soccer at all levels. Our whole family does! We go to local games for our rec teams, cup teams, our local USL team the Riverhounds, even MLS teams like Columbus Crew. And we took a family trip to see EPL teams Liverpool, Leeds, Man U and Everton. And OF COURSE we go to cheer on the USWNT. We went to see them win in 2015, cheered for them in 2019 and are chanting LFG for 2023.

It’s incredible to watch really skilled players on the field with their dribbling, juggling, passing and shooting skills. They make it look so easy.

But of course they’ve been practicing for hours and hours.

I decided I wanted to learn a basic soccer skill – juggling the ball. Why not? I’m watching tons of soccer games right now as the teams in the Women’s World Cup battle it out in the group stage. So I selected one of the many soccer balls laying around our house and started juggling.

Well, I tried. And I failed.

And tried again. And failed.

And failed.

“Why can’t I do this?” I complained. “It looks so easy.”

It does look easy. When my oldest was 12 he would walk through the back yard juggling a ball while eating Bagel Bites.

a white preteen boy juggling a soccer ball holding a plate


But here’s the thing: by this time he’d been playing soccer basically year round since he was 6. Had I put in that time and effort? Nope.

My kids offered lots of support, suggestions, and advice. They really want to see my succeed. Sometimes it felt like they were telling me contradictory things. Sometimes it felt like they weren’t helping me, just telling me what I was doing was wrong. But they were patient and positive and encouraged me to keep at it. They even reminded me to get my practice in even when I was frustrated and wanted to give up.

But the thing is, no matter how much they encourage me and no matter how much soccer I watch, there’s no magic formula. I have to put in the work to learn this skill.

It will be hard, it will take time, and I will make a lot of mistakes.

Guess what? The same goes for writing. No matter how many books I read and how many stories I analyze in movies or in critique groups, I have to put in the work to write a good story. And so do you!

Sometimes your critique partners will give contradictory advice. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated and want to quit.

You’ll read an incredible book and it will look so easy. So you’ll give it a shot, and you’ll fail.

Coaching helps. Advice from friends helps.

You don’t give up, and you try again and again and again.

And you’ll fail again, but you’ll get two good juggles. And you’ll feel amazing. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

So grab a ball and get out there. You can do this.

Books and Board Games: For Sushi Lovers

Can’t get enough of sushi? Love taking the family out to eat some nigiri and tamago and sashimi? Then I have a tasty book and game combo for you. But this time, I’m switching things up. Instead of a board game it’s a card game. And instead of a picture book, this book and game pairing features a middle grade novel.



Sushi Go is a classic card game that’s easy to play for all ages. It’s family style, just like sharing your favorite sushi meal. It seems simple, but takes strategy and skill to make a winning hand(roll) just like making sushi.


When you are done winning several rounds of Sushi Go, pick up This is How I Roll by Debbie Michiko Florence and dive into a tasty tale about a young girl who wants to be a chef, just like her dad. You will root for Sana as she learns to make home cooked Japanese meals and you’ll probably want to try them yourself!

As always, if you want to learn how to play, I recommend checking out “Watch It Played” on YouTube. Also,BoardGameGeek offers a lot of great recommendations and Q&A.

Once you decide you want to buy a game, please look around for a local board game store!

For more book recommendations, I ALWAYS recommend visiting and buying from your local bookstore. One way you can buy online and support a local store is by shopping through Bookshop.org.

Some Free Critique Advice

I’m in several critique groups and I try to really provide useful, actionable feedback for my partners. I thought you might like to read some useful, actionable feedback that YOU can use on your story.

Yes, these comments are for other writers writing other books, but if you think about them in general terms you can make sure you aren’t repeating these problems in your book.

And if you’re still not sure, don’t forget I offer individual critiques. 

  1. What’s the pitch for this? What’s the tight focus? I’m sure you have a query letter with a pitch, and I wonder if that would help you tighten the animal list to a specific kind of surprise. For instance, if “hunting” is the surprise, that could help you reduce the number of animals to only those that hunt by ambush. Writing the pitch helps you make sure you’re staying true to the story when you write it.
  2. Is this book about helping kids convince parents? OR is this book about avoiding bedtime and staying up all night? I know that’s a slight nuance but I think it’s important, because I don’t think the rest of the book actually tells kids how to convince their parents, so this section needs to be revised.
  3. I think you need to do a revision that eliminates A LOT of the scientific info and the background info and focus on the immediate experiences of your main animal character. Really put it into her perspective as much as you can, so that kids can empathize with her. They will be rooting for her to be accepted by the foster parent. You can move a ton of text to the back matter and readers will still have access to it. But by making this big revision, you will focus on the heart of your story.

I hope these comments help you strengthen your manuscript. Remember, writing the query or pitch first is a really smart idea. It helps you zoom in on exactly what you want to write, how you would sell your story in a bookstore (which makes it easier to sell to an agent or editor) and really satisfy your readers. Good luck and keep writing!

Should I hire a professional editor for my book?

You’ve written the final draft of your book, and you’re so proud. You want to submit it to that dream agent RIGHT NOW! You’ve revised it, used the “find” tool to go through the whole manuscript and delete unnecessary words, you’ve worked on showing, not telling, and you’ve even come up with a great pitch. Nice job, because that’s a lot of hard work.

But don’t.

I know it’s hard, and you don’t want to wait anymore. You’ve put a lot of work into this, and you’re sure it’s ready to go!

I’m telling you, don’t submit it yet.

I highly recommend you look for a professional editor to read over your book.

Why should you hire a professional editor for your book? Here’s some feedback I received on a manuscript from the editor I hired.

So immediately, readers need to know whose story it is, what’s happening, and what’s at stake, ideally on the first page. In the first sentence, readers crave the sense that something is about to change (and likely get worse). This shows that we’re not entering the story too early or at any boring event or time for the protagonist, but exactly the right moment–the one that’s a really crucial time or moment in the protagonist’s life. We want to know that a problem is imminent and about to blow up into something really huge. Of course, this opening problem doesn’t have to be the biggest problem, or the climax problem, but it almost needs to feel that way at the time.

I love this advice. It helped me address a big problem I was having in terms of where/when to start my story. The manuscript I’m working on is nonfiction, but I want it to read like a novel, so I need it to have all the elements of a great story. Beginnings are a big part of it!

Critique groups can help you with this, too, and I love my critique groups. But the big difference for me between an editor and a critique group is that we focus JUST on my manuscript. When I’m on my follow-up call, we can dive deep into all the questions and concerns I have about my manuscript. In a critique group, I’m always very mindful about not taking up too much time. And the editor is seeing lots and lots of manuscripts, so the editor has a lot of experience helping people address problems. Your critique partners may have a lot of experience, but they may not.

Critique partners help me with specific small issues, or they help me with emotional responses to parts of my stories. But professional editors help me with story structure and the overall framework of the story. I think each one has a really valuable role to play, and I’m grateful for both. But I think working with a professional editor is going to be a main part of my projects for a long time.

What Authors Need to Know About School Visit Contracts

Authors love doing school visits, but with the rise in orchestrated, coordinated effort in book banning, planning ahead by having a well-written contract.

**SCBWI is updating their site, and this article isn’t available right now. I’ll update the link as soon as it is!**


I wrote an article about this for SCBWI Insight, read more here! 

Books and Board Games – For Adventures in Space Lovers!

Want to blast off with some fun books and board games? This unusual pairing is sure to launch your space adventurers into the stars. First we have the card game Space Team created by Stellar Factory. Like most rocket launches, this game is LOUD!! The entire game is about communicating with your astronaut crew to solve problems and build equipment and there is a lot of shouting. There is also an app you can use to play sound effects and a count down timer. If you don’t like quiet, boring board games you will love Space Team.

When you’ve had enough noise but your mission team wants more space, then hand them a copy of Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare. This wordless picture book is the perfect, quiet way to replicate the soundlessness of outer space. It’s also a fun way to spark the imagination of the curious mind about what is really out there.

cover of the book Field Trip to the Moon

As always, if you want to learn how to play, I recommend checking out “Watch It Played” on YouTube. Also,BoardGameGeek offers a lot of great recommendations and Q&A.

Once you decide you want to buy a game, please look around for a local board game store!

For more book recommendations, I ALWAYS recommend visiting and buying from your local bookstore. One way you can buy online and support a local store is by shopping through Bookshop.org.

Some Advice for Writers from Birders

I’m both a birder and a writer.

When I bird, I’m often out there enjoying whatever birds come my way. But sometimes, I’m looking for a specific bird. I have a goal. It can be frustrating when I can’t find it, and even more frustrating when others can.

When I’m writing, I’m often creating a story for the joy of it. But sometimes, I’m creating a story with a goal of getting published. It can be frustrating when I can’t get it right, or can’t sell it. It’s even more frustrating when I see someone else have success with a tale similar to what I hoped to write.

But is writing or birding really about matching what others have done? Or is it about loving what I’m doing? It’s really beautiful to me how the lessons I learn in one part of my life help me enjoy another part. Hopefully some of these thoughts will help you with either birding, writing, or whatever path you are pursuing.

1. If you walk the same paths, you’re going to see the same birds.

Be brave an explore a new kind of story, a new genre, a new path. Pick up a book you’ve never read before. Read poetry. Go uphill instead of around the pond.

2. Sometimes you have to go find the birds, and sometimes the birds find you.

I try to keep an open mind to what stories bubble up in my brain, even when I’m not looking for a new one. I find inspiration in a lot of places – music, news stories, scientific discovery, or even a misspoken word. Be open, and always carry a notebook.

3. Standing still doesn’t mean you’re not birding.

You might think you’re not a real writer if you haven’t sold anything, or if you haven’t written in awhile. It’s OK to take a break and refuel your creativity. You don’t have to prove anything to others.

4. If you kill all the bugs, you won’t get any birds.

Some bugs are scary, some might hurt. Let in some of the unusual, the unfamiliar, the scary and the possibly painful. It could lead to something great.

5. It can be wonderful to bird with others. But sometimes you need to bird on your own.

Critique groups and conferences and writing sessions are amazing. And so are birding walks with groups. But it can be distracting and disheartening if these groups lead you to compare yourself with others too much. It’s OK to want some time to yourself.

Books and Board Games: For Butterfly Lovers!

caterpillar chrysalis


Did you know that I was once a butterfly babysitter? Yep, a friend asked me to watch over her two dozen monarch caterpillars – including feeding them and  cleaning up their poop – until they made their chrysalises and hatched into butterflies!

That’s why I love the board game Mariposas by (again) the incredible Elizabeth Hargrave. Yep, she is a genius at coming up with nature-related board games. The goal in this game is to help your monarchs migrate north over the seasons and multiply AND get back to Mexico in time for to stay warm all winter.


But for many years it was a mystery where monarchs went all winter. And there are some excellent books about the people who studied the monarch migration.

I like The Mystery of the Monarchs by Barb Rosenstock. The subtitle is “How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Fred and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration.” I love community science, and this book is all about how ordinary people helped with this huge research question.


This book and board game pair is perfect for people who love butterflies and love a game with a predictable end point. You aren’t playing until someone accumulates a certain number of points (like in Settlers of Catan). You’re only playing for four seasons, so don’t delay. And as a bonus, you learn geography and the names of flowers that monarchs love!

As always, if you want to learn how to play, I recommend checking out “Watch It Played” on YouTube. Also,BoardGameGeek offers a lot of great recommendations and Q&A.

Once you decide you want to buy a game, please look around for a local board game store!

For more book recommendations, I ALWAYS recommend visiting and buying from your local bookstore. One way you can buy online and support a local store is by shopping through Bookshop.org.

Critique Group Feedback on Creating Characters and Connecting with Readers

a dog in a superhero costume next to a bowl of candy


Getting into costume is a great way to get into character. Writers need to get into their character’s head every time they write a story. But they also need to get into their reader’s head and figure out how their reader will connect with their main character. It’s not easy to hold all of that in your mind at once. That’s why bringing your story to a critique group is great idea. You can get feedback on what behaviors, dialogue, and choices your character needs to make them relatable to young readers.

Here’s some feedback I received recently on characters in my picture books.

  • “This story touches on a universal subject. Although the theme is universal, it is hard to get a sense of who the main character is.”

It’s great to write a story that relates to lots of people, but remember a story is about what happens to this particular character. Is your main character specific enough? 

  • “Picture books usually feature a child protagonist. In this story, your MC feels like an adult. Is there a way you can make him more child-like?”

We are adult writers writing for young readers. Think about ways a child sees the world. Can you connect to a specific memory from your childhood as a starting point?

  • “Why would kids want to read about this? Why should they care?”

This feedback was on my hook overall, or my pitch to editors. When we write for children, we can’t just write about something cute or funny. We have to write about something that really matters to kids, which means we have to listen to kids. What do kids care about? If it’s been awhile since you’ve listened, now is a great time! 

You may know I provide editorial and critique services both independently and on Reedsy. If you’re writing a story or book and would like proofreading, copyediting, critique, or feedback please get in touch!

New Book!! Elizebeth Friedman: Expert Codebreaker of World War II (Women Warriors of World War II)

For many years, I couldn’t tell people where my parents worked. I could only say, “the department of defense.”

Now, I can tell people they worked for the National Security Agency. That’s why I feel such a special connection to this new book, Elizebeth Friedman: Expert Codebreaker of World War II. 

Elizebeth’s story was secret for so many years, but now we can learn about her astonishing achievements.

This book will be available August 2023. It’s published by Capstone Press.

book cover of Elizebeth Friedman Secret Codebreaker of World War II

An inspiring graphic novel about Elizebeth Friedman, a codebreaking pioneer who changed the course of World War II. Nazi spy rings! No-good gangsters! Shakespearian lies! Discover the courageous woman who cracked all these cases and more–with only a pencil and paper. The youngest of ten siblings, Elizebeth Friedman stood out from an early age with brilliant language skills and a passion for English literature. Eventually, these talents led to a new opportunity: codebreaking. Using ciphers and other trailblazing techniques, Friedman solved coded messages to take down some of the most notorious gangsters in the United States, including the infamous Al Capone. During World War II, as German forces stormed across Europe, she took her skills to the frontlines, thwarting Nazi spies and helping lead Allied forces to victory. In this action-packed, full-color graphic novel, learn more about this daring woman who took risks, defied expectations, and confronted the enemies of World War II.