Selected Works

A Young Adult Novel, 2014
A Young Adult novel, 2012
Adults and Young Adults
A 2010 Green Earth Book Awards Honor Book
Younger Readers
A new twist to a very old story. Beautifully illustrated by Heather Solomon.
A tall tale from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Winner of the 2002 Charlotte Zolotow Award for best writing in a picture book. Available in hardcover and paperback.
Works in Progress
A new YA novel
A collection of essays about Fairy Tales

Quick Links

Transformations in Writing

Return to Juvie

February 4, 2013

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

Talking to residents about how I wrote FOUR SECRETS
One of the highlights of a quiet January was spending an afternoon at the Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center, the facility that I used as the setting for my novel. The experience was, from beginning to end, almost unbearably meaningful. 30 kids at the JVC had read the novel and had questions for me about plotting and characters. Most of the questions were WHY questions; WHY did I write Nate's journal in the language I chose; WHY did I make Renata an artist. It was a perfect opportunity to talk about decision-making in writing. We talked a lot about the illustrations. At the end of my presentation, each student gave me a thank you note in the shape of a crow. A few girls lingered at the end of the afternoon, wanting their picture taken with me. They were just girls. They were just kids. My heart sang with gratitude for the rest of the day. Special thanks to Carmen Dahlhoff for all her good work to make this happen.

Literary Bookie Blog Lists FOUR SECRETS as a Best Book Bet of the Week for November 19

November 19, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets

Four Secrets mentioned as a Best Book Bet for November by blogger S. E. Toon.

"Secrets are fragile things, hard to keep and promises even easier to break. As the bullied become the bully each girl's friendship with the other is tested in this honest story of the complexity of emotions and the repercussions of one's actions. This is one book that addresses bullying without the reader feeling that they are being preached at."

I appreciate this clarification because S. E. Toon is right; my book does not preach about bullying. Rather it celebrates the trial by fire that bullying brings to the innocent and celebrates the heroic teenager who must rise above cruelty and ignorance. Wow, I am sounding like Nate tonight.

To check out this and other recommendations on this blog click here

One of the centerpieces at the MAME Conference, Lansing Michigan

November 5, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

Ah, the crows.
Part of the warm welcome for my book. Who knew FOUR SECRETS would lead to such striking centerpieces?

"Ah, the crows...crows symbolize bad luck, Mrs. Shield. I have had some very bad luck lately."--Renata Le Cortez

But it was VERY GOOD LUCK luck for me to be invited to give my first presentation about writing 4 Secrets to a fine group of Michigan school librarians and media educators.

Special thanks to Past MAME President Cyndi Phillip and Decorations Diva Dee Gwaltney.

Wonderful time at MAME

November 4, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

look how the podium was decorated. Love it!
School librarians--the best and warmest and most learned audience a children's author could hope for. FOUR SECRETS warmly received. Much concern among librarians about bullying. Photo courtesy of Shelley Lazarus.

Very passionate blog review of FS

October 15, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Bullies, Writing Life

This was not just another blog review for me. This one deeply moved me because the book so deeply moved the blogger. It's from Feathered Quill.

"In this amazing YA novel, not only has the author gone in-depth on this subject, but does so by offering a mysterious plot, fantastic characters, and a wealth of emotions that will truly leave the reader with something to think about!...(T)he writing is remarkable, and being able to spotlight this very dangerous problem while still weaving an unforgettable plot, shows that this is one author with a true gift! Quill Says: Buy this! Now!"

Read the full review here

Ramblings about Bullying since it's Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

October 11, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Bullies, Writing Life

It's Bullying Prevention Awareness Month
Later in the fall I will be speaking in several Chicago schools about FOUR SECRETS and my thoughts about the social problem of bullying in schools. Tonight I am wondering if there is anything to be said about bullying that hasn't already been said.

Do students really need to hear another adult tell them how much pain is inflicted by the mundane cruelties of the modern high school?

Aren't the very terms--bully, bullying, bullied--starting to have the empty ring of cliche for many teenagers?

I want to use my book as an example of how an episode of bullying cracks the surface of a life and takes a child into a place of psychological trauma. It requires courage, stamina, will and resolve to just GO to school when you are being bullied. Standing up to bullies calls for heroism and self-awareness. The self-awareness is what can turn the experience into art--the response of the artist, writer, musician, dancer, athlete--some form of action and creation to counteract the helplessness that the victims of bullying feel.

Art is connection. Counteract bullying with ART. Words, colors, shapes, sounds, movement, spirit. Push back. Keep track. Guard your unique and precious souls by telling the truth of what is happening to you.

More thoughts to come.

THE BULLY PROJECT: A phenomenal site about bully prevention HERE

Yeah, Social Workers!

September 30, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

The author with a social worker at the Bookman!
This is Kelly Oom, who came to my book signing, and who has worked for years with Juvenile Offenders in the Grand Haven area. She was one of several social workers who inspired me to create Greta Shield and to keep 4 Secrets (and my scenes of juvenile detention) authentic and believable. Plus they all inspired me to make Greta Shield a social worker who WORKS TOO HARD FOR KIDS IN TROUBLE.

Who has a problem with that???

The Art Teacher

September 30, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

The Author with Angie Johnson, the real art teacher at the JDC. The Bookman party Sept. 27th.
Angie Johnson spent time with me both in and out of the JDC, talking about what it's like to teach art to kids who are in juvenile detention. And so I had to put an art teacher in FOUR SECRETS, someone who knew just how much all the kids needed her, not just the artistic kids, like Renata, but all the kids, with their nightmares and strife and stories without words.

Wonderful Hometown Booksigning

September 30, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Life

It was so wonderful to celebrate the publication of my book, which is officially "available" October 1, at my local indie bookstore. I am happily signing away in the background at the BOOKMAN in Grand Haven, Michigan, a charming and lively bookstore that has supported me for over 30 years! I gave away many books to the many people who helped me make this book happen--some are mentioned in the acknowledgement pages at the end of FOUR SECRETS, but there were others, and it was such a pleasure to hand these helpful people a real book and say: "See? All those questions and phone calls and note-taking--and now a book really happened!"

Wonderful evening!

Haunting Trailer for FOUR SECRETS

September 27, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Bullies, Writing Life

with Jeff Joanisse, director of the trailer.


I am delirious with excitement about the trailer for FOUR SECRETS. It was created by my stepson, Jeff Joanisse, an accomplished director and filmmaker, from a script I wrote using quotes from the characters. The kids in the trailer are friends of my grandson, Isaac Joanisse--Maya Denslow (Renata), Cam Lund (Nate) and Kylee Kowalksi (Katie). They did an amazing job and I loved using all local (Grand Haven & Spring Lake) talent. We shot it at an empty room in the Piano Factory building in downtown Grand Haven. The piano music is courtesy of the fantastic local musician Garrett Born. Very very proud of the effort put into this bleak little gem of a book trailer. View it here

Promoting, Connecting, Preparing

September 3, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Writing Process, Writing Life

Back when I published my first novel--an event which has been on my mind, perhaps because my daughter is now the age I was when I had her and when my first novel was published--it was completely unnecessary to do the sort of self-promotion and self-generated publicity that is now an integral part of the profession. In fact, there was a supposition that my job was to WRITE, a private and solitary act, and that all of the other aspects of having a book published were assigned to the experts--my first editor, Laura Geringer; my first publicist, Bill Morris, my first agent, whose name escapes me. I did nothing, NOTHING, to promote, or sell, or publicize my own books, and nothing was expected of me. My work was sent out into the wide world by others and everything was carefully filtered for me, filtered and fluffed, so that nothing would discourage or confuse me--the new writer, she-who-must-be-protected, exposed to the marketplace gently.

How lucky I was, to have published at all during that era, certainly an easier time for writers who are shy and love their privacy. I never even made a phone call on my own behalf--I just waited for others to promote me, knowing that the rewards of writing a good book would come. And rewards did come--strong sales, invitations to speak, citations and awards--all without any effort from me beyond doing my best to write the books I was meant to write.

Well...I have just spent the past month, getting my book and my name out, out, out into the marketplace, with the invaluable help of a seasoned publicist, but I am experiencing up close and personal, the changing role of the writer in our overly-interconnected world where buzz and speed and promotion is everything!

From The Entertainment Report: Petrucelli Picks

August 13, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets

Excerpt from Petrucelli Picks Review:

"In FOUR SECRETS, award-winning author Margaret Willey explores this hot-button topic (bullying) from a fresh perspective. Told through a series of journal entries by three outsider teens while locked up in juvenile detention and using graphic illustrations to depict key scenes, the relatable characters with their not-so-ordinary secrets will engage readers from the first page."

read the whole post here

The Social Worker

August 9, 2012

Tags: 4 Secrets, Summer of Silk Moths, Bullies

Mrs. Shield, The Great She
Katie's Journal: "I like Mrs. Sheild, Journal. I like that she doesn't seem upset or shocked that I'm actually in juvie. She doesn't treat me like a criminal, she just talks to me really straight, no feeling sorry for me, no tears."

Nate's Journal: "I am lost, Great She. I don't know how much longer I can last in here. I wish I could tell you everything, but there is danger all around me and it will be worse when I get out if I do not keep my promises."

(NOTE: Many thanks to editor Andrew Karre for helping me to remember that 4 Secrets is not about Greta Shield's secrets, not her story at all; the quest belongs to the three young "prisoners," despite her devotion to them.)

My dear friend Virginia Gordon, to whom FOUR SECRETS is dedicated, made me promise that I would not redeem the cruel and desperate bully, Chase Dobson, who is responsible for the chain of events that lead his 3 victims to juvenile detention. She knew me well, to make me promise that. She knew that I have an ongoing impulse in my work to transform/reform my characters, as I did with Nora in SUMMER OF SILK MOTHS. She was right on this one. Thank you, Ginny. I miss you.

Illustration by Bill Hauser