Last week, my family and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Aspen, Colorado. I had never been before, and it was stunning, tilting on the cusp between autumn and winter. We wandered along trails where trees were still aflame with yellow leaves but also found entire groves of bare branches and white trunks. On one of these hikes, we came upon this ski boot just sitting alone on a log in the middle of a forest. It looked weather-beaten and abandoned. How strange. What fun! What had happened?

So, my daughter and I took turns creating the backstory to this lonely boot. Had a wayward skier lost a boot last winter, forced to walk for miles, dragging her skies, her foot growing frozen through her wool sock? Had someone packed some boots in as they hiked by on snowshoes and lost one, realizing too late they couldn’t ski down when they got to the top of the climb? Or maybe an old man planted it there with a message sealed in plastic stuffed in its toe so that once the snow melted he could lead a lucky stranger to a secret treasure? We agreed we liked that last one the best and regretted not peeking inside when we’d had the chance.

No matter. It got me thinking about writing prompts and how you can find the spark of a story anywhere. I’ve always especially loved prompts that deal with found objects, and this one certainly lingered in my mind far after we’d flown home to Northern California. Why was that boot in the forest?


So here’s a prompt: Consider the boot. Write a short story, a poem, a short play, etc. where the boot plays an important role. Who starts to populate the world of this boot? What is the central problem or crisis? Where does this story take place? Build a world around the boot. If you’d like, let me know what you come up with, or, feel free to send along any other found objects that would make for a good starting place for a prompt. They are, after all, always around, surprising us with their potential.

Happy Writing!

Sitting in the shade of a tree near a river. Or with a toe dragging absentmindedly through the surface of a pool. Or in the air conditioning of a cafe. Or perhaps with toes wiggling in sand as the buzzing of boats on a lake hum in the distance….the options are endless…

Wherever your summer reading takes you, here are nine books to consider tucking into your bag along with your towel and sunscreen.

Let’s start with three Middle Grade suggestions from Ana. She was delighted when she got to read an ARC of one of her favorite authors and she highly recommends A HANDFUL OF STARS by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic) for its story of friendship and its beautiful setting. Friendship isn’t always easy and Ana thought DRIVE ME CRAZY by Terra Elan McVoy was a sweet and funny exploration of two girls who have to figure out how to get along even though they are pretty different (HarperCollins). When Ana read SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE by Jen White (FSG), she couldn’t stop telling me “this book is crazy awesome — I can’t put it down.” With a clever concept (sort of a reverse home alone story) White gives her readers an adventure they won’t forget when her main character gets left at a gas station by her unpredictable dad with her little sister in tow. This intrepid 12 year old has to be more than “almost brave” to figure things out.


For the YA readers in your life, I recommend ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN by Will Walton, EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone and SECOND CHANCE SUMMER by Morgan Matson. I just had the honor of reading at the Bay Area Book Festival with both Morgan and Tamara and they are not only ridiculously talented authors who create real and complex characters and situations but also gracious, lovely people — a summer win!


Finally, I’d like to suggest three novels for adults. As you may know, I’m an enormous Dean Bakopoulos fan and loved his first two novels PLEASE DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON and MY AMERICAN UNHAPPINESS and I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of his newest novel SUMMERLONG — a sad, wise, hilariously mature and searingly insightful look at what happens with a group of grown ups who aren’t acting perhaps as “grown up” as they should one hot summer near the college campus of Grinnell in Iowa. Tennessee Williams has nothing on Dean. For more family drama, I recommend THE TURNER HOUSE by the enormously talented Angela Flournoy. Set primarily in Detroit but also in the south, Flournoy explores complicated relationships with siblings (there are 13!) and the way the past (and present) can haunt a family. Speaking of family, Laura Dave writes about a winemaking family in Sonoma in her new novel 800 GRAPES (the number of grapes in a single bottle of wine). I’ve loved everything Dave has written — she is hilarious and has a huge heart — and from what I’m hearing this book will not disappoint as the perfect summer read:


What books are you looking forward to reading this summer? I would love to add to this list!


Ana pulled Darith L.’s name out of the hat!


In celebration of the paperback release of CATCH A FALLING STAR on Tuesday, April 28th, and of California and Independent Bookstore Day on May 2nd, I’m having another Stargazer Book Giveaway (US residents only). On May 2nd, I will be giving away a glorious red bag of books to one lucky winner.


What’s in the bag?

Signed paperback copy of CATCH A FALLING STAR (Scholastic Point)

Signed copy of Jessi Kirby’s gorgeous new hardcover THINGS WE KNOW BY HEART (HarperTeen)

Signed copy of the always amazing Jo Knowles’s READ BETWEEN THE LINES (Candlewick Press)

Hardcover copy of Sarah Dessen’s new novel (enter Squeee! here) SAINT ANYTHING (Viking)

Paperback recommended by my daughter: OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum)

Ana says, “Out of My Mind showed me that even if your body is damaged and can’t function, it doesn’t mean that your brain can’t function. The main character, Melody, has an illness where she can’t walk, talk, or feed herself. But she’s the smartest girl in her class. I’ve been recommending it to all of my friends!”


Here are the details:

Leave a comment on this blog post or on the main Stargazer Book Giveaway, take 2 post on my Facebook page telling me which book you’re most looking forward to for summer reading this year (no extra points for choosing CaFS, but thanks if it’s true!) OR you can tell me the name of your favorite local indie bookstore.

Winner will be drawn randomly on May 2nd at 5 pm PST (out of a hat, old school) from the combined names of both this blog post and the Facebook post.

Don’t forget to get out to your local independent bookstore on Saturday May 2nd to help them celebrate. I will be at The Book Seller in downtown Grass Valley, CA from 11-12 to sign copies of the CATCH A FALLING STAR paperback and chat about books – join me if you’re nearby! Also, I want to send out a special thank you to The Book Seller for their support of this Stargazer Giveaway and for being just all-around amazing.

Winter Reading

Even if it hasn’t been much of a winter here in California, I still crave this season of curling up with a good book by the fire. Here are some favorites from our family so far this winter.

These three novels for adults each stand out for different reasons. In We Are Not Ourselves Thomas breaks your heart slowly in this pitch-perfect tale of the American Dream. I will read anything Hornby writes and in Funny Girl he delves into the comedic television world of 1960s London and the many different lives and hopes of the people within it. He provided a thoughtful look at the complexity of creating a show beloved by the masses (and the impact that success or failure has on its creators). I especially loved the line: “What a terrible thing an education was, he thought, if it produced the kind of mind that despised entertainment and the people who valued it.” With Everything I Never Told You, Ng had me at the title. This is the quickly-paced story of a Chinese-American family in the 1970s whose carefully constructed world starts to shift when their daughter goes missing.

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For a unique YA read this winter, check out Katie Coyle’s Vivian Apple at the End of the World. Coyle explores the nature of fundamentalism and the potential threat of a corporate America through the eyes of Vivian who comes home one day to find her parents missing and holes in her roof as if they’d been Raptured. For those of you missing the feels of The Fault in Our Stars, try Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. I adored her novel for adults, Velva Jean Learns to Drive, so I was excited to read her YA debut  – a touching and often funny love story about two very different teens. Each year, our county participates in Nevada County Reads and Writes and this year’s selection is Trash by Andy Mulligan. This dystopian thriller makes for a dynamic family read, raising many different topics for discussion, like poverty and the power of hope.

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Anabella has two recommended reads for middle grade. She’s a huge Cynthia Lord fan (author of Rules and Touch Blue) and she equally loved Half a Chance, a sweet tale of friendship and the power of art. For the graphic novel fans out there, she read (and continues to reread) Cece Bell’s hilarious and big-hearted El Deafo, which was also selected as a 2015 Newbury Honor Book.

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Please share any books you’ve enjoyed curling up with this winter – we’re always looking for suggestions!

On November 29th, my daughter and I had the opportunity to participate in Indie First Small Business Saturday. I got to live my dream of being a bookseller in a fabulous independent bookstore, The Book Seller, and Ana got to see what it might be like to be a bookseller for a morning. She loved it (surprise, surprise) and the end of her shift ended like this (as it should be):


That day, we wandered around the store, putting our “suggestion flags” into books we love and talking with people about books they might want to give for the holidays. Yeah, it was heaven.

Then, on December 6th, I got to be a part of Scholastic’s 12 Days of YA with CATCH A FALLING STAR. The question they posed to me was — what book would you give your crush?

People often ask me to recommend books and I love getting asked this question. However, over the years, I find the requests more and more challenging because, well, books are a bit like sending someone on a blind date. Sometimes people come back to me having loved a suggestion but some return looking as if I’d just sent them through some sort of botched elective surgery. So what I’ve tried to start doing is figuring out ahead of time what books they’ve loved in the past or what they might want from their reading experience and then we go from there. That’s why when Scholastic asked me What book would you give your crush? I tried to come up with a fun list based on specific crush types. Here’s my list:

If my crush has been known to take a dare…

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan

(I’d include a journal with my own list of dares so we could start our own book.)


If my crush thinks like Sherlock….

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

(Mila is a female sort of Sherlock with a brainy first person narrative.)

If my crush is a dreamer….

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti

(Because a 2.5 million dollar tip would solve everything, right?)

If my crush likes cool world mash-ups…

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

(This one had me at the tag line: Darcy writes the words, Lizzie lives them.)

If my crush has a darkly humorous side…

Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

(Leigh works in a graveyard as her afterschool job; it sort of sucks sometimes. But there’s this cute gravedigger…)

If my crush dreams in music….

The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour

(A post-graduation road trip for a band of teenagers trying to figure out what’s next. And Nina Lacour’s writing sings for itself.)

If my crush has a poetic side…

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

(Woodson’s gorgeous poetry memoir of her youth won the National Book Award, so, yeah, it rocks.)

For this post, I thought I’d also share a few non-YA books for the special wee one, tween, or grown up in your life.   These are three I’ve loved as of late, but you might just “not be that into them” (that’s me, busting out the hip, current references!)

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, a delightful little story with a huge heart

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, a hilarious graphic novel about a family road trip (this is the book Ana most recommends this year when people ask her about her favorite reads)

Us by David Nicholls, a thoughtful, funny novel about a family – a scientist father, an artist mother, and their complicated teenage son – as they embark on a “grand tour” of Europe just as everything starts to shift in their lives.

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading! Let me know if you have any books you’d recommend this season for someone like me who is a bit of an opportunivore when it comes to books.


Thanks to Jen Nadol (whose new YA Contemporary THIS IS HOW IT ENDS from Simon Pulse has a fantastic title) for tagging me in the 8 Terrible Titles Challenge. That was fun. And sadly, some of these are much better than some of the titles I came up with for my new YA Contemporary set in Tahoe (Scholastic, Winter 2016) when I was actually trying. Guess I could have saved myself some time.

The rules? Scroll through your manuscript and stop at a random spot. Wherever your cursor lands, that’s your title. There’s no hunting through your pages for the perfect phrases. This challenge is to see how truly awkward your title could be. Here are Jen’s titles if you’d like to check them out: Jen Nadol’s blog

Okay, 8 Terrible Titles for my new YA Contemporary; here it goes:


That last one is now the official title of the writing process for this book.

YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt

5028484 This year, I’m lucky enough to be part of the 2014 YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt.As part of the hunt, I get to host another YA author on my site. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Michelle Madow! See below to win a copy of Michelle’s book (US Giveaway only). I sent Michelle some interview questions about her Vegas novels, THE SECRET DIAMOND SISTERS and DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH. Writers, take note: she has helpful suggestions for POV and process!:

1.      The backdrop of Las Vegas is such a compelling world for a YA novel– how did you come to choose this setting?

I visit Las Vegas every year for a family event, and I was walking through my favorite hotel — The Wynn — when I thought, “What would it be like to live here?” From there, the idea for The Secret Diamond Sisters formed! I love how the city bursts with magic and excitement. Vegas does everything as big as possible, so being there is like entering a fantasyland. My favorite part is definitely all the different hotels. Each one is a different theme, and they all have such distinct personalities. A few of my favorite hotels are mentioned in The Secret Diamond Sisters (Paris, the Venetian, and many implications to the Wynn), so hopefully readers are transported into these magical hotels while they’re reading the book!


2.    My blog is called POV (Point of View) because I’m fascinated with the idea that we each have our individual lens through which to look out at this funny world of ours. So as a writer, I love that each character we create also has his or her own distinct POV. I noticed your books are told through the points of view of four different characters – can you discuss the challenges and benefits of having multiple points of view in a YA novel?

Writing from four alternating POV’s is challenging for two main reasons—getting the timing correctly, and getting the voices correct.

There are SO MANY differences between these four main girls. Peyton is the oldest sister, the most stubborn, has taken the brunt of the difficulty of dealing with an irresponsible mother who recently spiraled into alcoholism. She hasn’t gotten over a certain heartbreak, and has trouble trusting anyone. Courtney is the responsible, goal-oriented sister, who oftentimes acts as the mediator between Peyton and Savannah, and has put school and work before having friends or a boyfriend. Savannah is the youngest and most naive — she’s been protected by her sisters — and is very innocent in comparison to them, but it also leads to her being an optimist who always believes the best in everyone. She also tends to crush on guys very easily. Then there’s Madison, the queen bee of her high school in Las Vegas, who feels threatened by the Diamond sisters when they first arrive, and who has major struggles of her own. When writing from the point of views of four different characters, sometimes their voices meld together and sound too similar, so when I’m editing, I have to be aware of that and make sure their voices are distinct.

As for timing, I always keep the same pattern in the chapters throughout the series — they alternate in the order of: Savannah, Courtney, Peyton, Madison. So when I’m outlining my books, I need to make sure that the timing works in conjunction of the POV shifts.


3.     Many of my creative writing students wonder about process and practice as an author. Do you have a routine that works for you or any fun writing rituals that you use to keep yourself motivated?

I outline my novels in detail before writing them — this makes it so I know what’s coming next in the plot when I’m drafting, and I don’t get blocked. My favorite time to write is in the afternoon. I can’t write with any distractions, so I write in my room, alone, with no music or TV on. It has to be completely silent. I have a goal of writing 1,000 to 1,500 words, at least five days a week, and try my best to stick to that goal until the draft is finished. When I wrote my first book, I kept a photo of myself with my favorite author, Stephenie Meyer, next to me to keep me inspired. Now, I have copies of my own books across the room, so I can look at them and remember what I’m working toward!


4.     We make a lot of lists in my creative writing classes when we’re writing. Would you be willing to make a list I could share with my students of interesting possible settings to include in a novel or story? 

I feel like any setting can be used to create a good story, as long as the setting acts as a character itself. The setting should contribute to the story, and it should be of interest to you. Some ideas:

– A place you’ve visited and loved, or a place you’ve always wanted to visit

– Places with historical significance: The Titanic, London during the plague or Great Fire, Pompeii, etc.

– An abandoned town

– Another planet

– A magical world within our world

The possibilities are endless, and what’s important is that it’s a place that is interesting to you! Your interest and passion will make the story sparkle.

Thanks, Michelle, for these fabulous responses to my questions!

WIN a copy of Michelle’s book (US Giveaway only)!

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Diamonds in the Rough Summary:

All-access doesn’t mean no problems.

The three Diamond sisters survived the summer in style after coming to live with their long-lost billionaire father. But making a place for themselves at their exclusive new Las Vegas private school is throwing them any number of gold-plated curves. Savannah’s YouTube stardom turns into a Sweet Sixteen reality show extravaganza—with complimentary enemies on the side. Dangerous flirtations don’t keep Peyton from a gamble that will risk far more than she planned to bet. And when Courtney and the sisters’ archenemy, Madison, uncover two explosive secrets, it will rock even this town of glittering illusion—and turn their lives upside down all over again.

Sisterhood, first crushes, and scandalous secrets explode in book two of Michelle Madow’s riveting series, The Secret Diamond Sisters.


Author Bio:

Michelle Madow wrote her first novel, Remembrance, in her junior year of college. Remembrance is the first book in The Transcend Time Saga, a three part series about reincarnation and true love. The series was inspired by Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” music video. Michelle’s latest YA novel, The Secret Diamond Sisters, about three sisters who discover they are the secret heirs to a Las Vegas billionaire casino owner, was published in March 2014. It is the first in an upcoming trilogy. The second part, Diamonds in the Rough, will be coming out in November 2014.

Michelle lives in Boca Raton, Florida, where she is writing more novels for young adults. She loves reading, spending time with family and friends, traveling, shopping, sunshine, Disney fairy tales, Broadway musicals, and spends way too much time on Facebook (/MichelleMadow) and Twitter (@MichelleMadow).

Read the 1st novel in The Secret Diamond Sisters series!



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