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

Wonderful Honor for Beetle Boy

May 11, 2015

Tags: Beetle Boy

This month, I was invited to an awards banquet in Chicago hosted by the Society of Midland Authors, where my novel Beetle Boy was honored as a finalist for the SMA award in Children's Fiction. It was a wonderful night and very meaningful, because I was born in Chicago, travel there often to see my daughter Chloe and her family. There are other ties--the location of the banquet was the Cliff Dwellers Club on Michigan Avenue, overlooking Lake Michigan and the Chicago Art Institute, where my father was a student in the 1940s on the GI Bill. My parents met at the Art Institute, married, had three children and then moved to Michigan. My husband Richard Joanisse was educated at the University of Chicago, taught briefly at DePaul University, and then came to Michigan to help found William James College on the campus of Grand Valley State University. And one more tie--my granddaughter Beatrice was born in Chicago, same as her grandmother Margaret. It was my great joy to bring Chloe as my guest to the awards banquet. A great honor for Beetle Boy and also a beautiful convergence of my many ties with the Windy City.

Perceptive, Provocative and Starred, BCCB Review

November 11, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy

end paper
R* Gr. 8-12

"The strata of Charlie’s trauma peel back gradually through dreams and flashbacks to reveal a highly sensitive boy who was badly used and then abandoned by his opportunistic father; readers will feel the ache screaming from his dreams into his waking responses, which would otherwise seem inexplicably harsh. His debt to Martha threatens to go sadly unpaid until he confronts his own sense of guilt and responsibility for his brother and his mother, making for a subtle yet psychologically resonant conclusion."

Why Mrs. M.? Responding to questions from readers about this snide and cantankerous character.

November 6, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Mrs. M. Writing Life

She looked away from me and said to no one in particular, “What a miserable profession
this has become. Broken, broken people.”
“Excuse me,” I objected. “I am not broken. I’ve sold eighteen books today, and my dad said
I only had to sell fifteen.”
“Well, at least your pimp is having a good day. Go back to your table. You’re not supposed
to talk to me, remember?”
“They’re her stories,” I blurted. “They’re the stories my mom used to tell us at bedtime. To
help us get to sleep.”
Mrs. M. sighed. “The pimping deepens. Oh, we’re all pimps, Charlie. Pretending to care
about our sad little readers. Pretending our silly stories help them.”
“I don’t think they help,” I said, another huge confession. “They sure aren’t helping me...
Okay, gotta go. Good luck with your writing, Mrs. M.”
As I hurried away she called, “Good luck with your childhood.”


First of all, let me say how much I love Mrs. M. and how much I loved creating her, giving her a voice, making her say all those cryptic things about children and books and what she calls the “strip shows” of children’s literature conferences. If you have been in the business ofwriting books for children as long as I have, you have endured many Mrs. M. moments. It was very cathartic to create her, to make her cynical and suspicious of false sentiment and also unsure of the worth of her own contributions to her genre. She knows that much of it is contrived and weightless.
The real joy of creating a character like her became clearer to me when I shared bits of scenes in Beetle Boy as a novel-in-progress with writer friends. My writer’s support group howled in recognition at the darkness I was conveying about our chosen professions. They loved it. They told me to keep going. They thanked me for creating Mrs. M. She is, as I suspected, at the bloody heart of our efforts to reach children and yet remain the jaded, critical-eyed adults we really are.
I have always hated seeing children used and exploited by their parents for money and attention. I have seen it both in and outside my profession and I have been unable to rescue the children involved as Mrs. M. rescues poor Charlie Porter. What joy to create a character who can create a place of safety for a child in so much need. If we are serious in our work for children, then we all have a bit of Mrs. M. in us, snorting in derision at the ways we hide behind sentimentality and superficiality, wishing we truly had more to offer the children who need us most.

Beetle Boy Reception making me VERY BUSY

September 27, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Writing Life

Beetle Boy, coming on strong
I am so easily distracted by news about my novel, this Beetle nightmare novel that dropped on Sept. 1. This novel I expected to be ignored (no false modesty here. Very proud of the novel, but it doesn't fit into any neat or currently popular categories). I have had so many wonderful things happen already, among them the starred reviews (see my home page), the book's appearance on several "recommended" lists, the Publishers Weekly pick of the week mention and several thoughtful blog reviews. And so I have been scattered and unfocused by all of this positive reception and unable to settle back into my two current projects--my essay collection about the fairy tales of my childhood and my husband's unfolding memoir of growing up in Canada with Quebecois parents and grandparents (which I am happily ghostwriting).
But I have all day today! And I have all day tomorrow! I have two more essay that are near-completion. That will be my goal for the weekend--finish! And move on. And stay away from the social media roller coaster and get back in the cave and come out only to eat.

Such A Beautifully Designed Book!

August 18, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Carolrhoda Lab, Writing life

Everyone I show Beetle Boy to remarks on the book's design. Everyone! I am so proud of how it looks and so grateful to the design team at Carolrhoda Lab. The cover is stunning with its raised purple on the beetle and the shiny white of the background. It is without a doubt the most artfully designed book of my entire career.

From the Blog of Andrew Karre, Editor for Beetle Boy!

August 11, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Carolrhoda Lab, Four Secrets, Writing Life

My editor at Carolrhoda Lab posted a wonderful blog last week about the special gifts of what he called "the long view," a nice way of commending older writers who continue bringing unique visions to their sometimes formulaic genres. He also commends The Horn Book Magazine for its historic reach and appreciation for good literature regardless of trends. The blog is here.

Thank you to Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab Books.

Another Starred review for Beetle Boy

July 22, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Carolrhoda Lab, Writing life

Publishers Weekly has given Beetle Boy a starred review. "A potent story about the power that the past exerts on the present." A young man haunted by flashbacks of his powerless childhood. And by his nightmares. Struggle and redemption. No easy answers. Read the review in its entirely here

When YA is Less Teen and More Adult

July 17, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, Carolrhoda Lab, Writing life

Bookmarks!
My new YA novel BEETLE BOY belongs somewhere between what we know as young adult fiction, and literary fiction that deals with childhood trauma. Several friends who have read the novel--authors themselves--asked me why it was published as a YA novel. And part of the answer lies in the grey area of fiction for teens that is Carolrhoda Lab.

I am very lucky to be part of the Carolrhoda Lab family, and I use the term 'family' with intentional irony. Andrew Karre, my editor at CL (he also edited Four Secrets, 2012) has created a list of YA's that flourish in the aforementioned grey area, particularly the novels on the list that are realistic and contemporary (Carrie Mesrobian's SEX AND VIOLENCES, 2013 and Blythe Woolston's FREAK OBSERVER, 2011 are two highly acclaimed examples). Carolrhoda Lab is Karre's imprint and part of the umbrella publishing company that is Lerner Books, based in Minneapolis, and including many other imprints and presses. Here is their home page. More specifically, the home page for Carolrhoda Lab is here.

When people ask me this question (why YA?), I can't help but think that some readers assume I have a category firmly in mind when I write a novel like BEETLE BOY. I do not. A story germinates and surfaces and unfolds. The focus sharpens. The pages slowly become novel-length. I don't think about genre. That comes later, if at all. My recent work is alive and kicking the grey area between adult fiction and edgy YA fiction and I am strangely and ironically comfortable here, ironic because I am so much farther from adolescence than when I began writing for teenagers 30 years ago.

BEETLE BOY is necessarily harsh. Reviewers have described it as "demanding," "riveting," and "chilling." It is from my heart of darkness and is not meant for children or pre-teens or any reader who prefers fantasy realms and happy endings. But yes, absolutely, it is a YA novel.

Kirkus Starred Reveiw for Beetle Boy

June 28, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy, writing process

I have a few writer friends who say they don't read their reviews. Others who say they don't care about reviews and are not affected by them. I wish that I could adopt one of these two strategies. I must admit, the wait for my first review of Beetle Boy was stressful. I am not a stranger to critical reviews, even a few that I would characterize as brutal reviews--and these, I believe have strengthened my belief in the integrity of my own books. They are not for everyone. They are distinct and uniquely mine. This is certainly true of Beetle Boy. I don't think I have ever been so proud of a book--so sure that it is coming straight from my heart and my brain and my beliefs about what happens to children when their parents abandon and/or use them. But the book is a strong dose, full of harsh realities and human failure and may be problematic for some. So like I said...waiting for that first review...very hard. Now it has come and the matter is settled. I am very glad that it was a starred review, but beyond that, I am over the hurdle of the wait for the "first review," and so feel very free about what will come next. Let it roll. I believe in my book. No one else could have written it.

Beetle Boy is on Netgalley

May 20, 2014

Tags: Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy is available for reviews and ratings on Netgalley. Very exciting to know it's now being read. By readers. People. Not just me. It's out there. It came from a dark place in me, but I am so proud of it and I LOVE the spare and edgy cover. Perfect for the content. A book about Charlie Porter. A book about an unlikely friendship. A book about nightmares. A book of heartfelt and necessary bleakness. Also my funniest (I think) book to date.

Another Emotional Boy with a Story to Tell

February 21, 2013

Tags: Beetle Boy, Writing Life, Boy Narrators

Manuscript for Beetle Boy
I have sold Beetle Boy to Carolrhoda Lab and I am so happy about it. It is another novel narrated by a sensitive boy--like Nate Wilson, tortured but noble in his integrity and his compassion. It has set me to thinking about why I am now so much more comfortable writing in the voice of such a boy--Pete Shelton, Nate Wilson and now Charlie--especially considering that my earlier novels were so girl-centered (a good example: The Melinda Zone). Perhaps it is the adolescent boys I have known since I first started writing for teenagers and my appreciation for their struggle. Somehow I believe in a wellspring of romanticism and emotional innocence in boys that no longer seems possible for girls, given what society asks of girls in the 21st century. Girls need to be harder, more wary, more defensive, more angry. With a boy, I can create a reluctant warrior, a sweeter creature torn by sexual longings and sexual ignorance. An adolescent confused about manhood and yet wanting to be manly in the best sense of the word. That is Charlie. I am so fortunate to have a manly editor to keep me in line regarding Charlie's voice and Charlie's dilemma. Think there is another essay in here somewhere.