My Bestsellers



Writer Perks

Being a writer allows me to . . .

1. Get Backstage Passes


I often get to go behind the scenes, where no ordinary citizens are allowed, to research stories. It's like having a special passport.

For Space Rocks, scientist Adriana Ocampo showed me around parts of JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) off-limits to the public. This giant, sprawling NASA center specializes in flinging robotic spacecraft to other planets.

An assignment on elephants landed me a front-row seat to a Ringling Brothers circus rehearsal. Here, I'm clowning around at the Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

2. Meet Amazing People


I love all things space and was pleased to meet astronaut Tom Jones. At Kennedy Space Center, I also walked directly underneath space shuttle Endeavour, which was in the repair shop to replace tiles after a flight.

3. Learn Cool Facts


In the Galapagos Islands, I learned that, if you tickle the neck of a giant tortoise, it will extend its head way up, out of the shell. Here, I'm playing this trick at a Reptile Park in South Dakota. (It's a bad hair day for both of us.)

4. Try Something New


A good trait for writers is the hunger for new experiences.

My husband Chris and I took a hot air balloon ride in zero degree temperatures in New Mexico. All of our toes froze but the views were spectacular.

5. Take Time to Think


That was the view outside my home office one evening!

6. Tell Silly Pirate Jokes



Q. What's the bounty for capturing a pirate?
A. A buccaneer. (a buck an ear)

Q. Why is being a pirate so addictive?
A. As soon as you lose yer first hand, you get hooked.

Q. How can you tell a rookie pirate?
A. He counts by twos—two hands, two legs, two eyes . . .

Q. Why are philosophical pirates so smart?
A. They think, therefore they AAAAARRR.

Q. Why did the pirate walk into the bar?
A. Lack of depth perception. An eye patch makes it hard to tell where anything really is.

Q. Why don't pirates mind their P's and Q's?
A. They spend all their time at C.

Q. When does a pirate act like a bird?
A. When he's a-robbin'.

Q. What are pirate movies rated?
A. AAAARRR!

Adventures in Writing

Find Your Tribe


Artist and graphic designer Cynthia Jabar and I hit it off, creatively, from the start.

Writers tend to live a solitary life, spending a lot of time inside their own head, imagining. That works for me most of the time, but I've also enjoyed some mind-stretching experiences both working on and leading a creative team.

So, here's my number one advice for writers: Show up. Say yes, follow through, and leap out of that comfortable cocoon to connect with people.

For the past five years, I've made a serious commitment to attend more conferences, workshops, openings, mixers, networking lunches, and other outings. I've organized informal gatherings on my frequent visits to New York, each one a fresh mix of friends and colleagues.

I love talking shop, craft, and business with fellow writers, editors, and game designers, but I also make a point to reach out to people who have skills and experiences that I don't. Magic happens when you can combine divergent forces and create something fresh and special.

I welcome collaborations, especially in game design and digital publishing, where the solo act just doesn't cut it. Contact me if you think we're walking a similar path.

Don't forget to laugh along the way.

I Went to a Game Jam and Came Back a Writer (twice)


Team Ganesh! Multitalented Katy, developer Larry, artists JP and Edwin, and me at the Global Game Jam 2013.

At Global Game Jam '12, Mushroom 11 was my favorite game, by Itay Keren. I don't usually go for platformers, but this one has a lovely feel to it.

JANUARY 27, 2013, 2:10 a.m.

You know, at last year's Global Game Jam, at NYU, I went in, thinking, "I can make a board game in my sleep." That was my fallback. But, what I really wanted to do was connect with people who have skills I don't: coders and artists, mainly. A hidden agenda.

Pretty quickly, I was lured onto a video game team: a friendly designer and a tight-lipped developer and a talented drop-in artist. After hearing the theme (ouroboros—the tail-eating snake), we left the site and brainstormed over cheap ramen noodles.

I came up with half a dozen game ideas to fit the theme, many half-baked, and one pretty good and thematically appropriate one. Back in the corner we staked out, I paper prototyped it, and we made some progress on that game until site closing, midnight sharp.

I took the train back to Brooklyn and tried to sleep. Squirrel brain kept me up most of the night, and so I refined, fine-tuned, and honed that game design as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I came up with a brilliant solution to a problem. I expanded and extended the game, and then contracted it—streamlined it to its doable essence.

At 9 am, NYU doors open, I showed up at the site full of sketches and enthusiasm. BUT: Overnight, my video game team had gone in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION, and the artist had jumped ship. The remaining duo had abandoned everything we did, didn't tell me, and essentially voted me off the island. Ouch!!!

Since I can't code fluently and have limited art skills, I turned my game design into a party game—a physical, two-team conga line challenge. I prototyped it with colored blocks and then couldn't find 10 people (!!!! I know) to help me test it. They were all glued to their computers, coding and creating pixel art. I was tired. Over the course of the afternoon, I introverted and withdrew from the scene, returning on Sunday afternoon to see what other teams had created.

A year later, I still have that game on the back burner, untested but promising. And, I don't at all regret going. I met some very, very talented people. WOW. I wish I had met more of them. (Stayed too long in one room, with one team, and then retreated.) The after-glow was that I came away with a bunch of creative energy that sustained me for the next week or so. I poured that energy into more profitable and doable ventures for me. A win, not a loss.

So, here I am, round two, for Global Game Jam 2013 (why did I come back? I don't know). And at 2 a.m. on Saturday night, I have squirrel brain again. But this time, it's my right brain, the writer in me. Our game is out of my hands, almost completely. The coders and the artists are manipulating their pixels and I can't test my design until they're done

So, I am writing a blog post. And thinking, I really *want* to write now. (I don't feel that way enough.)

What is it about Global GAME Jam that brings out the WRITER in me?

Part of our "Heart of Ganesh" brainstorm board. The gist: You're a matriarch elephant leading your family along an increasingly crowded migration path. Can you navigate to the watering hole without trampling villages?

Who Taught You? Thank Them.


My favorite teacher? Lorraine Woodard. We even share a first name.

At Northville High School, I showed up to her Advanced Composition class exactly 59 minutes late one morning, a victim of that tricky EDT/​EST switcheroo (I was never, ever a ”morning person”), and she didn’t bat an eye, no demerits, no fuss. For a graduation gift that year, she gave me a pen that lights up. She said, simply, ”For when you get your ideas. Write them down.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the secret to writing. It doesn’t do anyone any good at all, if it’s all in your head. You have to WRITE IT DOWN. If you don’t, it’s lost forever. Something was said at the time about not being able to step in a river twice, but I probably took that too literally as a teen.

I get it now. I wish I still had that electric pen.

I’m a professional writer, and Mrs. Woodard worked hard to make me a good one, but I’m still searching for my voice. You see, I keep getting these ideas. I need to write them down.

Mentor, and Be Mentored


On February 18, 2012, I attended the memorial service of my friend, editor, colleague, and mentor, Eric Oatman. Through generosity and a passion for education, Eric taught a generation of editors and writers best practices, while forging many deep friendships. With their help, I compiled this booklet of "Eric's Life Lessons" to share and spread the wisdom and kinship.

Make Yourself Squirm


Regi Carpenter mesmerized me at the 2011 Taos Storytelling Festival.

I love my computer, I love my cozy home office, and I love writing. So, the thought of standing in front of a crowd at the very center of attention and spinning a yarn paralyzes me. By chance and good fortune, I met storyteller Regi Carpenter in Taos, and we talked a bit about her craft, and mine, on a long shuttle ride from the airport.

The next evening, I loved listening to Regi's polished and pitch-perfect tales of growing up along the St. Lawrence River as a "Carpenter Kid" and signed up for her workshop. Thanks to Regi's warm, skilled guidance, I now have the very beginning of a new story, one that, to my surprise, revealed some truths about myself just in the telling.

When it's practiced and polished, I will sum up the courage to stand on center stage, come what may.

That's a promise I just made to myself.

Just Go There



Whenever I've been home too long, I look at a map and say, "Where next?" Then, I tell myself, "Just go there." On a road trip from Michigan to New Mexico, I decided to take the long and winding route there and back. This beautiful redscape is near Devil's Tower, Wyoming.

Expressing Marrakesh



Is this me? Believe it or not, it is! At the generous invitation of two of my English language students, I visited the busy, stunning country of Morocco, North Africa. I'm sitting near a beautiful pool and garden at the edge of Marrakesh. Behind me is an olive grove and, immediately beyond it, stretches a vast desert peppered by Earthy-red colored homes. Wearing a scarf is optional for Moroccan women, but my friends are traditional Muslims and, as they say, "When in Rome . . . "

Patagonian Megabeasts


I spent three weeks traveling around Argentina. My kind hosts in Patagonia were teachers Su and Sergio. Sergio brags that Argentina has "the best megabeasts, ever." I believe him! PUBLISHERS: If you're intrigued by the idea of a book, game, or other product about these amazing creatures, please contact me.


I'm standing on stone that's 90 million years old and so littered with fossils (dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, eggs, petrified plants, etc.) that paleontologists only bother to collect the best and rarest. (photo: courtesy of Sergio Stinco)


I'm extremely happy to be holding a dinosaur egg fossil at a dig site called Lagos Barreales in Patagonia, Argentina. One of the paleontologists just handed it to me, and I nearly dropped it. It's very heavy and surprisingly round—like a bowling ball without holes. (photo: courtesy of Sergio Stinco))

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Featured Books and Games

Children's Books
Read the sad, moving tale of a peace-loving leader who lost his land, many of his people, and his life-long fight to keep the peace. (FREEBIE history puzzles.)
The true science adventures of Diane France, forensic anthropologist. NSTA Selector's Choice, AAAS/SB&F Subaru finalist, starred reviews!
Adriana Ocampo found her path to science adventure through space-traveling robots and crashing asteroids! (FREEBIE science quizzes and a FREE ebook by Adriana.)
The Body as Evidence (Autopsies) and Crime Scene Investigation!
Venus and Serena, Peyton Manning, Michelle Kwan, and others for ages 6-9. (FREEBIE sports quizzes.)
Outdoor fun for 6 to 8 year olds.
Tornadoes! and Hurricanes! are my two best-selling books with 1.6 million sold!
Games
A must-have card game set for English language (ESL/EFL) and language arts teachers and tutors. (FREEBIE ESL materials.)
My top selling game book! (FREEBIE math puzzles.)
Lively games and activities about grammar, vocabulary, and dictionary skills. (FREEBIE word puzzles.)
Great American History Games, 15 Primary Source Activities (plays, games, readings, and more) and more!
Race from Earth to Mars, an orbiting target, by fixing malfunctions and answering intriguing science questions. Endorsed by astronaut Jack Lousma.