How to Write a Good Story and Bake a Good Pie

I’ve baked lots of things that taste better than they look. But about a week ago I baked something that looked better than it tasted.

It was my first meringue pie, and it did look very nice. I was so proud.

But it wasn’t quite as sweet or spiced as I hoped. It was a tad too bland, I think. And the cream was overwhelming.

I feel deflated.

I didn’t have any trouble with the mechanics of baking the pie (for once!). It was honestly pretty easy to make the crust, the cream filling, and the meringue. Nothing burned, turned, or curdled.

But when they were all combined, the result was just…blah.

Sometimes we write stories like that. The mechanics are there. There aren’t any grammatical errors. There are characters, some kind of an arc, and an ending.

But without that salivating something that adds the irresistible flavor, the something that sends you out of bed for just one more slice… it’s disappointing.

That’s OK.

Not everything we bake or write will be perfect.

But each time we practice, we learn to master the basic elements so we can focus our creative energy on adding more flavor. Something unique that will set it apart. That perfect combination of sweetness and spice that makes each bite unforgettable and each page utterly turnable.

So I’ll try again. I’ll add more spice. Maybe a tad more sugar. Something unique – maybe something not even in the recipe that I love! Something to make it stand out. And I’ll add that into my story, too.

(I’m enjoying learning about making pies from Kate McDermott’s books Pie Camp and the Art of the Pie. They are a fun read even if you don’t want to make pie with useful life lessons, too!)

P.S. – if you’re stuck on a story, I highly recommend trying to make cream on the stove top. Cream requires constant stirring so I find myself forced into meditative thinking. It’s mesmerizing and helped me imagine a new start to an old story.

How to Revise a Manuscript

Many writers want to know more about how to revise a manuscript. There are lots of ways to tackle this important but often difficult part of writing.

I spent a lot of time revising my book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da VinciAs you can read in the interview, one of the toughest spots was revising the hands-on activities for readers.

I’m so grateful to Shay Fan, the author of the blog From First Draft to Final Book for inviting me to share my revision story!

New Book Deal!

I’m thrilled to announce that I have signed with the incredible Miranda Paul as my agent and that I have a book deal with Chicago Review Press! Stay tuned for details as I work on this exciting project!

book contract announcement

Good Board Game: Mariposas

I really love a good board game. One of my favorites right now is Mariposas by Elizabeth Hargrave (aka The Board Game Genius).

Mariposas is based on the generational migration of monarch butterflies from Michoacán to Canada and back. There are only three seasons and each season has a limited number of turns. It’s fast, fun, gorgeous and challenging!

mariposas board game



There aren’t a ton of pieces either, which makes the game easy to set up and start playing. The goal is simple: collect food from flowers so you can get fourth generation butterflies back to their wintering place in Michoacán. You earn points for a variety of other achievements, like collecting one of each flower type, or having one butterfly on each of three color hexagons at the end of a season.

The flowers are real flowers, too. The board game doesn’t include the names, but thanks to BoardGameGeek we know they are:


Big cities that have way stations offer special bonuses. Waystations are real – they are intentionally created to help monarchs on their migration.

My husband and I willingly play several games in a row. He’s proposed a variation where we flip over the waystation tokens at the start of the game so we know what’s hidden there. I’m all for trying it out. Let me know if you have this game and if you try the waystation reveal variation!


Ask An Author Premier

I’m excited about a new project for 2021: Ask An Author.

When I was a kid, I wrote all the time. I wrote stories in notebooks. I typed stories on my grandfather’s old typewriter. I sent letters to friends and family that were a mix of fact and fiction. I read and wrote, wrote and read. I thought about how great it would be to write books myself.

I always wanted to be a writer. But I also wanted to help other people who wanted to be writers, too. I started a literary journal for our school when I was in seventh grade. We had some great stories and poems from kids in all grades.

Now I’m a professional writer. But I always was a real writer because I wrote whenever I could. I’m still amazed I’m a writer today – and I’m also still interested in helping other people become writers. That’s why I’m introducing Ask An Author.

Ask An Author is a chance for young writers to ask me, a real author, any questions they have. I’ll answer the questions in a YouTube video. I can include names and ages if you want, but I can also keep things anonymous.

You can email me questions, post them here, send them on Twitter – however you want to ask them. I’ll answer honestly and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll say that, too. And I’ll find someone who might know!

So let those young readers know they have a chance to Ask An Author questions about being a writer, being an author, writing books, magazines, fiction, nonfiction, critique, revision and everything in between!

The Gift of Gratitude

What’s the best part of writing conferences?

Is it the chance to pitch? Is it insider information? Is it awards or the free food?

I think it’s the people. The connections. That’s what I miss most about going to conferences. The last big one I went to was the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York in Feb 2019. I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. I’m still thinking about the wonderful lunch I had with people from my region. Everyone was nice and funny and so generous with their time.

I met people in workshops who I’ve stayed in touch with on Twitter. I was able to celebrate when they signed with agents or gotten great reviews on books. I’ve tried to be there with supportive words during the past year.

I met writers who became teachers and mentors. I connected with them again in online classes. I’ve learned so much from – they’ve made me laugh and think deeply about important questions.

In person conferences are wonderful, but I’ve also met incredible people through online classes, too. I have a brand new nonfiction critique group thanks to an online workshop from the Highlights Foundation. It’s priceless.

I had a chance to meet my (future) agent, Miranda Paul, in New York. And I had a chance to interact with her online this summer and fall. I’m grateful for her, and her hard work.

It’s the people. I’m so grateful for each person I’ve met at writing conferences. This gratitude is a gift.

Pantser v. Plotter – Resolved

You may of heard there are two kinds of writers, pantsers, who write by the seat of their pants. They let the creativity flow and discover the story as they go.

Plotters plan it all out in advance. They know the ending before they write “once upon a time.”

I’ve done a bit of both. But at this stage in my career, I am now solidly a plotter.

This is thanks to an excellent workshop hosted by novelist Maggie Stiefvater. The workshop is available via Etsy. I’ve learned a lot about writing, but the biggest thing I think I’ve learned is to know exactly what kind of book I want to write before I write a single word.

Maggie stresses that writing is about deciding what kind of book you want to write before you write. And then sticking with that as you write. This means you need to be mindful while writing. You can’t just wander off down any path. You need to be present and active and paying attention to what you write.

Or well, at least, I need to be present and mindful and focused when I write.

Making the decisions in advance, knowing the mood, setting, characters, plot, and resolution all in advance makes the story so much more intuitive. It frees you from worry and helps you focus on all the fun parts – dialogue, action, word choice – the sprinkles on a perfectly baked and frosted cookie.

That baking metaphor is intentional, just like my writing. I started thinking about a story a year ago, in the summer of 2019. I thought and thought. I didn’t realize it but I was making decisions. Then I signed up for a novel workshop course that had a homework assignment: plot your novel before writing it.

I decided to do the homework. I came up with a very tasty plot, a sweet problem, and a satisfying conclusion. Yes, it’s a story about baking. I wrote this novel in a few short weeks, probably about 6 (but I didn’t work on it every single day). And it’s one of the best things I’ve written. Because it was PLOTTED. I was mindful all the way through about what kind of book I was writing. And don’t worry, the creativity flowed.

In 2021, I plan to make decisions and be mindful in my writing. Team Plotter all the way.

SteamTeamBooks for Incredible Nonfiction

I love reading nonfiction. I love writing nonfiction. And I love being a part of SteamTeam Books. This website features year long announcements and celebrations of nonfiction books for all ages.

Really all ages. There are “I Can Code” books for babies up to young adult novel length books.

There are all kinds of books and topics. There are books about senses, and coding. Books about oceans and moths. Books about archaeologists and poop! There are Minecraft books, biographies of well-known people (like Anne Frank) and not-so-well known people (ever hear of Emma Lillian Todd?).

Nonfiction books make great gifts for loved ones and friends, and for yourself.

SteamTeam Books started in 2020. It’s been so successful that we are carrying the group into 2021 and celebrating even more nonfiction! I’m thrilled to have books coming out in 2021 that will be a part of SteamTeam Books.

What nonfiction book would you love to write?

What nonfiction book would love to read?

The Repair Shop for Writers

the repair shop show logo

Are you watching The Repair Shop? It’s a soothing, satisfying show on Netflix that features repairs of cherished family heirlooms. I love this show. It’s not without its problems, specifically that almost every single family bringing a valuable item is white. There are too many families that had their connections to their family history torn away and destroyed by slavery and colonialism.

But the show is not without it’s useful lessons. One important one came from repairing a lamp. Steve had to rewire a lamp that had a convoluted, complicated  shape. How did he pull the wire from the lady’s foot to the torch she held aloft?

He went down to go up.

(Just like Lightning McQueen had to go left to go right.)

Steve dropped a weighed string DOWN the lamp first so he could tie it to the wire and pull the wire UP second.

He went backwards to go forward.

How can that help you as a writer? Where do you need to go backwards in order to move the story forward? Do you need to know more about your character’s backstory? More about the history of the town? Do you need to do better world-building outside the story so you know about politics or economy?