Skyping with an author

I always intend to blog more about my school visits. I never remember to take photos myself, but often times the coordinator will send me some pictures after the fact and I’m always grateful. And then I don’t do anything with them!


Today I’m changing that. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of skyping with two classrooms who’d read To Stay Alive. This was a special skype session for me because the high school was in Truckee, California. (Right by Donner Lake!) They read the book and took a field trip to the state park and had really great questions for me.

Thank you, Mr. McAlindin, for arranging this great visit and also for sending along the photo. Your class was lots of fun!



I do free 20 minute Q&As with classrooms who’ve read one of my books. Contact me if you’re interested.

Writing Retreat

I’ve been traveling a lot recently. Here are some highlights from a writing retreat in Florida:



It’s a hard life being a writer. I know.


Time away to write is a wonderful thing. Time away to write with friends is even better. We had great conversations and solved all the worlds’ problems. (The worlds in our novels at least. The actual world, not so much. Somebody get on that.)


I’ve been missing in action on the blog of late. I’m sorry. Life.

I think my posts will be sporadic this spring as I’m working on two different novel revisions. But today I wanted to pop in to remind you that it’s National Poetry Month!! I had some fun plans for celebrating that on the blog, but alas. Instead, I’ll leave you with some images from one of my favorite new poetry collections. Enjoy:




Quotable Thursday

I love when someone writes the heck out of a sentence. On Thursdays, I try to post some of my favorites.

“Even the most sensitive person can get used to even the most insensitive thing. Cruelty isn’t a personality trait. Cruelty is a habit.”
~Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave

Elsa Marston

I’m sad to learn this morning of a friend’s passing. Elsa Marston was a talented writer, a caring person, and a wonderful human being. She had a life fully lived in which she made the world a better place. She’ll be sorely missed. My love goes to her family.

Elsa Harik Obituary

Elsa Marston Harik, 83, died at home on February 16 , 2017 after a brave two-year battle with cancer. At the end, as in life, she was surrounded by friends, family, her two cats, and many manuscripts.

Elsa was born in 1933 to Everett and Harriet Marston and grew up in the Boston area. Her father’s English students from Northeastern University would often come by the house, making a strong impression on her romantic spirit, particularly the dashing jazz critic Nat Hentoff. She attended Vassar and Iowa as an undergrad, and then did her Masters in International Relations at Harvard before packing up a steamer trunk and sailing alone to Beirut on a Rotary Fellowship. There she met her future husband, Iliya Harik, and began a life that revolved for 60 years around the Middle East.

After years in London and at the University of Chicago, the couple settled in Bloomington in the mid-60s, where they raised their sons Ramsay, Amahl, and Raif. Frequent sabbaticals took them to Cairo, Beirut, Morocco, Tunisia, and Ithaca (New York). She relished the encounter with the culture and politics of each destination, producing at every step works of art and literature that still adorn her Bloomington home.

A dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, Elsa nonetheless made a good home here in the Midwest, contributing to Bloomington’s civic life at many levels. She was a founding member of Citizens for Jail Improvement (later CJAM), and was involved in the Women’s League of Voters, the Arab-American Association, and Rotary. A fierce tennis competitor, she was active on the court until 2015. Most especially, though, Elsa was a writer.

Elsa’s published work ranges from whimsical picture books such as Cynthia and The Runaway Gazebo, to remarkably well-researched work on the pharaohs, to young adult fiction about the Middle East. Two books in particular gave her great satisfaction: the award-winning Santa Claus in Baghdad, which was made into a film in 2008, and I Just Kept Walking, about Bloomington’s own Morgan Scherer and his fund-raising walk to aid the Congo. Elsa’s great passion was to bring to young American readers some badly-needed understanding of the lives of their peers in the Middle East.

Perhaps somewhat quixotically, Elsa held dear the hope that by offering Americans a view of life in the Middle East “behind the headlines,” she would help disrupt stereotypical views of Arabs and contribute to a more enlightened engagement with that part of the world. She was particularly committed to publicizing the plight of the Palestinian people, whose warmth and humanity never failed to move her in her many visits to Palestine. Her writing, and her activism, continue to touch the lives of many.

Elsa leaves behind three loving sons, Ramsay, Amahl, and Raif, and two grandchildren, Savannah and Kahlil Harik. She is survived by her sister Lee, and her sisters-in-law Fadia, Laura, Ilham, and Angele. She will be interred in Dhour Schweir, Lebanon, alongside her husband, facing east toward Mount Lebanon.

A celebration of life will be scheduled later this year. Donations in her memory may be made to one of her favorite charities, Cat Lovers Against The Bomb (Nebraskans for Peace), an organization whose humor, feline inclinations, and deep humanity nicely capture the Elsa we knew and loved.

The Keyboard

So one of my kids pointed out to me that I’ve overused a button on my keyboard.

Apparently, in my typing, the n gets a lot of use. This led me to ponder on that a bit. I realize it could be a simple matter of I’m hitting that one harder than the others or whatever. But I prefer to think that I’m partial to the letter itself. That it’s growing weary for how often I’ve relied on it over the past couple of years. It’s done. It’s had enough.

But what would I do without the letter n? What would vanish from my life?




Owen and Annie (current main characters in my WIP)

cinder blocks








So many things. Too many to list. Too many to count. I need the letter n. So even though it’s tired and feeling pretty worn out, I need it to be there. Labeled or not.





Quotable Thursday

I love when someone writes the heck out of a sentence. On Thursdays, I try to post some of my favorites.


on that first kiss:

“It was exactly as he’d thought it would be, like the first time and the millionth time all at once, like being wide awake, like losing his balance.”
~Jennifer E. Smith’s This is What Happy Looks Like

My 40 Favorite Books – part 4

This past weekend I had a birthday – a big one! 4-0!!

To celebrate on the blog I’m posting 40 of my favorite books titles with you. Almost every time I do a speaking event, I get asked what my favorite books is. I never know how to answer that. I don’t have a very favorite book. I have current favorites and past favorites. I like a lot of books. And so…I thought it would be fun to stop and list the first 40 books that pop into my head when I think of my favorites. In the interest of fairness, I’m not going to list any title that happens to be written by a friend or someone I’m acquainted with. I’ve met an author or two on this list, but it was only that – just a handshake. I’m also not listing any adult titles. Mostly because I couldn’t think of any.

And so, in no particular order, here’s the last installment:


I’m sure after I post this I’ll think of a dozen more titles that I wish I’d listed…