Selected Works

A Rather Adult 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 middle grade novel
A collection of essays about Fairy Tales

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Transformations in Writing

My New January

January 17, 2016

Tags: writing life, Michigan

January in my Kitchen
January and February are my most important months for composing new work. The holidays recede and life grows quiet on the family front and the cold and stillness of lower Michigan keep me indoors and introspective. It is a good time for memory work and a good time to experiment. I work in my kitchen because my office gets too cold and I really like working in my kitchen from where I can see snow, wind, deer, squirrels and early darkness, stars, sometimes the moon. In the past few years, I have gotten more comfortable with working late at night--something I never did when I was younger. For decades it was always morning, morning, morning. Now I sometimes feel the most alive in my writing after dark, including the last few hours of my day. A good lesson--all habits can change and change can be liberating. This particular January, I caught the winter flu from my granddaughter during the holidays. Beatrice was sick for 3 days, Grandmother was sick for 3 weeks. Bronchitis and a relentless cough. All schedules and routines set aside. Insomnia from cold medicine and coughing. Except that I was never too sick to write and I wrote all the time because there was little else to do. An occasional streamed movie or series to break up the days, but mostly I was in the inner world of my story. I am working on a new novel, maybe middle-grade, not sure, about a quintet of mermaid sisters. Somehow the combination of minor illness and total seclusion created a great outpouring of new pages. In the stillness, I heard the voices of the mermaid sisters very clearly. My health issues made it possible for me to say no to everything but these female voices. A strange and beautiful January so far. Time re-invented. The drama of my own imagination. Health returns, I feel better and oddly grateful for these past weeks and all that they brought me.

from a Meditation on Living in the Present Moment in January

January 26, 2015

Tags: writing life

January dawn
Isn’t there something about our climate here in West Michigan, its extremes and intemperance, that makes it harder to live fully in the now? Aren’t we always waiting for a thaw or a storm, watching the sky for signs of rain, or a break in the heat, or a perfect beach day, or the brief spectacle of the leaves turning?
And isn’t there something about the persistence of memory, our unique paths, our most secret struggles, our regrets, our wounds from another time that makes it hard to stay grounded in the present moment and not journey back?
And isn’t there something about the January requisite to plan and organize, to clean out drawers, to budget and keep up with old and new bills, to catalogue the main events of the coming year—birthdays, holidays, surgeries, pregnancies, taxes, visitors, travel, loved ones who may need us—that makes it hard to feel that our most crucial appointment is with the present moment?
January, month of dichotomies—month of both rebirth and hibernation, both stillness and projection, both reclamation of the inner life and commitment to others, both treacherous highways and joyful sledding hills. The hardness of ice and the softness of new snow.

My Essay in The Horn Book about Madeline L'Engle's Early Novel CAMILLA

November 12, 2014

Tags: writing life

Reissue of Madeline L'Engle's Camilla
From the Horn Book, Fall 2014, an essay about CAMILLA and the long view of writing for teenagers. Read it here

"CAMILLA is narrated by a princess, one who lives with her parents in a New York City penthouse. The novel was published long before there was a young adult genre as we know it today, but it contains all the elements of the classic YAs of the late twentieth century — a journey out of childhood, a hypersensitive girl, a pace providing ample time for deep reflection. The reader participates in a clean, well-documented metamorphosis, wisely told by a girl who embodies the most cherished aspects of twentieth-century female adolescence — at least in literature: hope, compassion, and a fearless, unflinching honesty."


June 28, 2013

Tags: writing life, new novel, Four Secrets

revising a new novel
I have been thinking a lot about conclusions and concluding chapters and final paragraphs and final sentences as I mentally prepare to revise and polish what will be my next novel, published by Carolrhoda Lab in 2014. I read a fine and feisty blog review of my novel FOUR SECRETS; the reviewer said, as many reviewers have said, "I could not put this one down." She also says in the review that "the ending wasn't 100% satisfying."

This got me to thinking about HOW MANY TIMES in my 30-year writing career I have heard this sort of remark about my novels. I would have to say that at least every one of my now nine novels has had a reviewer or a reader express reservations about the way I conclude a novel--saying that not every issue in the novel is clearly resolved. With this goes an assumption that I have somehow been careless about my ending(s). When in fact I obsess and revise and rework my final chapters to the word, making the story's ending EXACTLY as I want it--suggestive of resolution and transformation but not hard and fast. Not crystal clear. For some, not 100% satisfying. I find myself wondering if this will also be said about my new novel. It doesn't matter. My favorite novels always end mysteriously, suggestively, with subtle arrows pointing toward hope and new awareness. And this is the way I write them. This is they way I conclude them. This is how I roll.

A Happily Scattered Writer

June 3, 2013

Tags: Folktales, writing life, Clever Beatrice

Wonderful Author Visit
Sometimes I do feel that I wear too many hats as a writer. I have so many different in-progress projects--it's one of the reasons that my office is always stacked and piled with different materials. I flit from project to project, moving this or that along a little further, only rarely finishing something. Sometimes I look at this tendency in myself and wonder what is has cost me to be a creative person whose energies are always scattered.

In May I did several end-of-the-year school visits to talk about Folktales in general and my own original folktales in particular. The kids were so terrific. Putting together these presentations, and presenting them , took a tremendous amount of planning and preparing. Not to mention the traveling, searching for schools in other parts of Michigan. It took me far, far away from what I am doing now--the new novel, my editing tasks, my essays about my childhood. Far, far away. But I wouldn't have missed being in those schools for the world. Look at these beautiful children. Their smiles. I am so happy that this is still part of what I do--share folktales, and my love for these traditional stories, with young readers.

This is very nice--Alan Caruba's blog of recommended November books mentions FOUR SECRETS

November 8, 2012

Tags: 4 secrets, writing life

"For older young readers, ages 12 through 18, there’s Four Secrets by Margaret Willey ($$17.95 hardcover and $12.95 ebook, Carolrhoda Lab, a division of Lerner Publishing Group) that tells the story of Katy, Nate, and Renata, three teens who decide to rescue Renata from being bullied every day by a group of older boys and, in particular, the school’s biggest bully. Things go awry and they end up in juvenile detention and the question is whether they will keep their secrets and whether a social worker will discover the truth behind their silences. For any young person experiencing bullying or wanting to intercede for a friend, this will prove a very compelling story."

Read all of Alan Caruba's recommendations here

Little Break from Bullies and Warriors

October 28, 2012

Tags: writing life, Beatrice, school visits

Bears, kittens and Beatrice
Late fall is the time for visits and videoconferencing with picture books--a kindler, gentler universe than all the focus on bullying and its aftermath. But I am so grateful for all the good things that are happening with FOUR SECRETS. Make no mistake. Just nice to be talking about bears and tricksters and the far north with younger readers.

Presentations include:
Clever Beatrice
Clever Beatrice Christmas
3 Bears and Goldilocks
Thanksgiving With Me

Thanks for the cool T-shirt, Harrison Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids!


August 24, 2012

Tags: writing life, writing process

Long must be...
More nostalgia. The jacket flap photo from my first novel. My daughter had just been born. Now she is expecting her first child, a girl. Beloved daughter. Expectant and full of new life and the same age I was when I had her. The baby will be named Beatrice, after Chloe's grandmother. And she will be very, very clever.

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Something I Realized About Journals

August 24, 2012

Tags: 4 secrets, writing life, writing process

The Bigger Book of Lydia
Today I realized something that brought a smile to my face. The very first novel I ever wrote, way back in the eighties, THE BIGGER BOOK OF LYDIA, had a crucial journal in it, a survival manifesto. Lydia's journal was about not fading away, not disappearing. In FOUR SECRETS, Renata also has a journal and it helps her to survive in Juvie. They are both artists and they both survive the trauma of their situations via their precious journals. It felt like a kind of full circle, an accidental one. I felt happy about this coincidence all day.

And also a little nostalgic for the early days of my chosen profession, before the internet, a time of innocence, a time of confidence.

More Return to Limberlost

June 4, 2012

Tags: Summer of Silk Moths, Girl of the Limberlost, writing life

Holding a portrait of Gene Stratton Porter
Happy, happy at Moth Fest. All mothy and mothery.

Return to Limberlost

June 4, 2012

Tags: Summer of Silk Moths, Girl of the Limberlost, writing life

Last weekend I was invited to Geneva, Indiana to be part of a moth festival at the Limberlost State Historic Site, the homestead where Gene Stratton Porter actually wrote both GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST and FRECKLES. There I spoke about moths, my love for GOTL, my Michigan childhood, and my 2009 novel A SUMMER OF SILK MOTHS. (more…)