Notes from the revision cave

If you know me in real life, one thing you’ll notice right away is that I am neat. Tidy. It’s quite possible that I’ve been passed down the neat and tidy gene from my mother, at whose house you can feel extremely safe eating food that has been dropped on the floor for more than five seconds. But you know what is not neat, or tidy, or orderly even when you really, really, really wish it could be?


Man, writing is messy! And revision is even messier! I’m in the revision cave right now with two separate middle grade novels. And while I might make a logical, ordered list of the things that need work in my WIPs and try to tackle them one by one, the truth is that revision, well, it sort of looks more like this. (Can you read my scribbles? I mostly can, though I try to get them from the notebook into the computer on the same day in case I start to lose that ability.)

While my first drafts happen directly on the computer (in Scrivener) and I generally write chapters and scenes in order, revision is a totally different beast. More often than not, my revision epiphanies come when I am doing anything BUT writing. I’m out jogging in the rain and — blam — a piece of dialogue that’s perfect and solves a problem I know I need to handle just comes to me. Today, five separate small plot pieces/moments came to me during my five mile run. By the time I got back to my house, I was *this* close to having to create a mnemonic device to make sure I had them all memorized. I might have even told my cat to stop meowing as I literally ran inside to my notebook so I could get everything down before I forgot it all. (Sorry, Lilly!) Likewise, reading other middle grade novels also sends me running for my notebook. And the moments right before falling asleep are ripe for epiphanies. I’ve taken to leaving my notebook on the floor next to my bed just in case.

All of this is to say that creating too many rules for yourself or trying to force the way you work into someone else’s regimen . . . it’s just not worth it. If there’s one thing I’m coming around to, it’s that this messiness is okay. Even when I feel guilty for the right ideas not coming to me during my writing time, I know that my subconscious is at work, 24/7. And in the meantime, I just have to trust the process, in all its messy, glorious wonder.

And that’s a wrap

As of tomorrow, 14 Hollow Road will have been out for 8 weeks (!!!). It’s been super fun stopping by bookstores to sign copies, meeting readers at events, and hearing what real people (i.e. not my mom) think about the book.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Chatting with a father and daughter — both of them enthusiastic readers and library fans — at the Jacob Edwards Library (Southbridge, MA). It’s amazing to see what a difference it makes for kids to see their parents engaged in reading. A love of stories is certainly contagious and one of the things you do want to catch from your kid/parent!
  • Seeing my writer, book blogger, and librarian friends (and family!) at my Massachusetts launch party for 14 Hollow Road at Porter Square Books. I’ve missed them so much since leaving Boston for Cincinnati, and it was such a treat to have some face time even if it was just for the night. Huge thanks to fellow authors Victoria J. Coe, Josh Funk, Erin E. Moulton, Camille DeAngelis, and Emily Martin for trekking out on a surprisingly cool summer night. My only wish was to have MORE time with all of them.
  • Taking my nephew to the Brewster Bookstore. Family summer vacations on the Cape are about tradition, so it was a total delight to take my nephew (a rising 4th grader) back to this charming Cape Cod bookstore to select some books. Each year I give him a budget of $30 and he leaves with 4-5 paperbacks. This time around, he selected Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud (his teacher read aloud from Holes last year and it was his favorite class read-aloud, along with How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor), Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach MeCircus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, and Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. He also really, really wanted his own copy of Holes, but ended up going with the newer Louis Sachar instead. But! Then we spotted a library book sale on the way home so, naturally, I had to introduce him to the wonder that is library book sales and LO AND BEHOLD he found a copy of Holes for twenty-five cents.
  • Back in early July at Nerd Camp I met Corrina Allen who hosts the fantastic middle grade book-oriented podcast, Books Between. She was reading 14 Hollow Road at the time and I was so antsy to hear what she thought of it. I loved hearing her thoughts about it in a recent episode (#29 – Cory Anne Haydu & Fantastic Friendship Books), especially  because she paired it with Bubbles by Abby Cooper. Abby and I have become good friends over the past few years and I’m such a fan of her work.
  • Speaking of podcasts, I was thrilled to hear sixth graders from Iowa discuss 14 Hollow Road on the podcast “Books R Us, which you can find on iTunes.
  • And finally . . . goat yoga [pictured above]. This has absolutely nothing to do with books but is exactly what it sounds like: yoga, outside, with goats wandering around. It was legitimately one of the most amusing hours of my life.

Hope you’re having a great summer!  – Jenn

The 10 Best and Worst* Things About Nerd Camp *;)


  • 1. Connecting in-person with online friends! So the truth is, most of the authors I know (myself included) kind of spend a lot of time on Twitter. It’s not just because we’re wasting time (okay, sometimes it is). Twitter is where so many good conversations are. When your author friends are far-flung, it’s the place to keep in touch. It’s also a great space to connect with educators. In truth, I’d be lying if I said a day went by when I didn’t check Twitter. It was so wonderful to meet in-person a ton of people I’d Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 9.01.43 AMpreviously only chatted with online — from many of the fantastic educators that are parts of #bookjourney, #bookvoyage, #bookexpedition and beyond, to author friends like Mike Grosso and Elaine Vickers and Abby Cooper and Carter Higgins.
  • 2. Leaving inspired. One of my key takeaways from Nerd Camp this year was that sometimes the person who needs to take the leap of faith is you. I have some ideas about how to connect Cincy-area children’s book people (educators, authors, booksellers) and this fall I’m going to get to work.
  • 3. Fantastic break-out sessions on day one. There was so much to take away from Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s excellent session, “Stories for All,” about so-called “boy” books and “girl” books. I’ve been trying to unpack some of my own experiences, after one year of being a female author attending conferences and book festivals, and this gave me so much to chew on. (Also, there are still so many of Shannon Hale’s books that I have to read!) In Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne’s session, I learned a new word: bibliothecary and, oh yeah, continued to grow my TBR.
  • 4. Learning from fellow authors. On day two, I loved hearing about Caroline Starr Rose’s writing process, especially because she writes historical fiction. I’ve been really enjoying reading historical fiction lately but have always felt so intimidated about how to approach it as a writer. Where do you even start? She talked about how she takes 4-6 months to read exclusively about a setting/time period, allowing herself to ask questions and see where that leads her in terms of what the story could be. I always assumed you had to have an idea and then research! Mind. Blown.
  • 5. Learning from teachers. In day two, I sat in on two great teacher-led sessions. The first was on how to motivate readers without rewards. (I feel so guilty for my years as a public librarian using rewards — books, but still — to entice kids to participate in our summer reading program.) The second was on Little Free Libraries, a topic close to my heart since we finally put up a little free library in our front yard just a month ago. I’m excited to put a guestbook in our little free library and create a FB page for it.
  • 6. The kids at Nerd Camp Junior. Just like last year, these kids blew my mind with their creativity. Our activity this year was Mystery Box. The sixth graders in my sessions reached into the Mystery Box (dun, dun, dun) to discover which random item would inspire them with new story ideas. They Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 8.58.49 AMgenerated SUCH exciting ideas. It felt like I was sitting in at a Hollywood pitch session. And because I had fifth graders last year, I got to catch up with several of the same kids, now as sixth graders! It was so cool to see their love of stories grow.


  • 7. You will cry. Every time, the Opening Talks at Nerd Camp get me. These seven minute talks, from a variety of educators and authors, always get me going, and this time was no exception. Stacey Reidmiller’s (@literacybigkids online) gave me all the feels and it was only downhill from there. I wish every teacher (and parent) in the country could see these speeches, particularly Tracey Baptiste and Chad Everett’s.
  • 8. Your TBR pile will grow and grow and grow as you attend inspiring sessions and meet authors whose books you haven’t read! (And, remember we’re nerdy book people. Our TBRs are already out of control.)
  • 9. That niggling feeling that there’s someone you missed connecting with. It was so delightfully chaotic that I know I missed people. It was truly impossible to spend as much time as I wanted to with all the people there. ::sniffles::


  • 10. Nerd Camp isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 8.59.08 AM

14 Hollow Road — now out in the world!

This one’s for the kids.14 Hollow Road_jkt_3p.indd
The ones who feel insecure about where they stand in friendships.
The ones who feel awkward around their crushes.
The ones who find solace in the companionship of a beloved pet.
The ones who are excited and a little bit terrified about moving on to junior high/middle school and growing up.
This one’s for them.
And starting today, it’s no longer mine. It’s theirs.

14 Hollow Road Book Parties!

To celebrate the launch of 14 Hollow Road, there will be two launch image1 (14)parties:

  • Tuesday, June 13th (the day the book is released) at Blue Manatee Children’s Bookstore in Cincinnati, OH, at 6:30 PM

At each event there will be delicious local treats, a brief reading, Q&A, and a book signing. The bookstores should have plenty of copies of 14 Hollow Road hardcovers and The Distance to Home  paperbacks available for purchase, but it never hurts to pre-order or reserve a copy by phone.

Both events are free and open to the public, so feel free to bring friends/spread the word. Hope to see you there!


When a question from a kid hits up against the truth

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the SE-YA Book Festival in Murfreesboro, TN (home of Middle Tennessee State, which just won their March Madness game last night — woot woot!). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the festival, first off, it’s the best. On the first day, students from area schools are shuttled in on buses. The whole festival is just for them! Panels and signings and hanging out on a college campus! So. Cool. The second day of the festival is free and open to the public.

During the question and anScreen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.31.00 PMswer part of one of the panels on the first day, a brave boy stood up and asked a question to the effect of, how do you respond when someone tells you that you won’t succeed?

I can’t recall my full answer to him, but part of it was this:

spite is a powerful motivator

Maybe that wasn’t the kindest answer, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least partially the truth. After all, it’s human nature to want to prove someone wrong. We’ve all heard those voices. For some, they come from our parents, who’d prefer for us to have forged an “easier” path. Or our peers. Sometimes they come out of jealousy or envy, someone who’s tricked into believing it’s about talent when, really, it’s just a bunch of hard work. Maybe they come when you bravely put something of yourself out into the world, and the world says, no thanks.

Maybe the person who’s telling you that you won’t succeed, maybe some days it’s you.

And while spite is indeed a powerful motivator (writers have elephantine memories, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who can’t quickly recall the name of a person who’d told them they’d never succeed as a writer), there is still a kinder answer, which is this:

Surround yourself by people who build you up. Join a writer’s group so that you have other people who “get” it. Attend readings to hear of the hardships other writers have faced in their journeys. That friend who’s willing to listen as you talk over a part of your story that’s just not working? Call them when you’re stuck.

And that voice that you use with a friend who’s in pain? Don’t be afraid to use it on yourself.

Spring is coming, I can feel it.

While there may be snow in other parts of the country, it sure feels like spring in Cincinnati. It’s warm enough to wear only a light jacket, the grass is green from all of the rain we’ve had lately, and the leaves on the tree outside my office are starting to open up.

Okay, who are we kidding — it really feels like spring because BASEBALL IS ON TV AGAIN! Yup, it’s spring training and this baseball fan is very, very excited about a new season with the Boston Red Sox. I’ll admit I’ve actually not been paying attention to them quite as much as I usually am because in Cincinnati we have another team to obsess over (and no, not the Reds) . . . the Bearcats! The University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team, a.k.a. the Bearcats, is having an incredible season and they’re headed for March Madness!


Yup, even Mr. Bearcat himself (probably not the official name of our mascot, but it’s what I call him) is losing his mind with excitement. There are a few other things I’m excited about this spring:

  1. Heading down to Murfreesboro, TN, at the end of this week for the SE-YA book festival!
  2. On May 16, The Distance to Home will be released in paperback by Yearling (an imprint of Penguin Random House).
  3. Early this afternoon, I typed the words “the end” on the final page of my newest project, a stand-alone middle grade novel. Stephen King said he puts his drafts aside for an entire month after finishing them, so I just marked my calendar for April 6, which is when I can next look at this project. Until then, on to other things!
  4. By which I mean . . . ALL OF THE BOOKS. No, but seriously. There are a LOT of books I am very excited to read in the next month or so. Here’s just a smattering of them:
cilla lee jenkins family game night lincoln psalm clayton thugsomedayeareokaytocatch

5. Exploring more of Cincinnati. This new city of mine is seriously beautiful and I have a feeling it’s going to be truly stunning come spring.

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 2.45.59 PM

(pictured is Ault Park, which is running distance from my house)

Holiday shopping help

You can probably guess that one of my favorite things to gift around the holiday season is books! So many books. Stuck on what to get for your father/brother/nephew/cousin, etc? Here are just a few ideas, selected from among the–as of tonight’s count– 143 books I’ve read this year.

For the littlest kiddos in your lifebestfrintsSo silly and full of great word-play. Also: those colors!



Mo Willems does it again. This one is too much fun to read aloud. I may have read it to my cat.



A moving and significant book about an immigrant family’s journey.



For that kid (or hey, maybe that adult) who’s at her wit’s end.



A beautiful look at Congressman (and one of my personal heroes) John Lewis’s childhood.


For the elementary school set:


Unforgettable historical fiction that’s surprisingly gripping. A Newbery contender for sure.



For the Wimpy Kid lover who’s caught up on the series and looking for something new to read. (So fun and true to middle school.)



Probably my favorite book of the entire year. For the sports fan looking for something with heart.

bixbyA tearjerker if there ever was one!



So glad I snagged a paperback of this 2015 book at NerdCampMI. Delightful MG historical adventure.



You can never have too much Dory in your life. My 3rd grader nephew loves this series, but probably not more than I do. Abby Hanlon gets inside the imagination of an early elementary school student like no other. These books are just brilliant.

(Now, I can’t choose just one book by my fellow Sweet Sixteens debut middle grade authors, so here are all of ’em!)
mg-debuts-3-web-normal-single mg-debuts-2-web-normal-single-1 flyer1-web-wide-single-1


For the teens:



Another unforgettable, rich novel by the inimitable A.S. King.



Yeah, yeah, my second Jason Reynolds book on the list. (I read four of his books this year, now that I think about that, so consider me caught up.) This one’s available in paperback and a great choice. I think I have a new favorite author!



As a kid, I was all over WWII historical fiction, but the market got a little saturated since then and since The Book Thief, it’s been a while since I’ve read a truly engaging WWII novel. Until this one!



Most unforgettable narrator of the year, hands-down! Recommending this to anyone going through the college admissions process (parents, teens, teachers). Or anyone who still has battle wounds from the journey.



A gorgeous YA mystery from a new literary voice. Bonus points for New England setting!

For the former kids and teens — ahem, adults!


Pride and Prejudice? Updated and set in my new home city of Cincinnati?! What’s not to love? (Well, maybe Darcy if he really does eat that much Skyline Chili.)



This one has appeared on so many reading lists post-election. I’m a sucker for narrative non-fiction, especially those that combine a personal story with hard data in an very readable way.

For every human you know (little tykes can read it later; these books are timeless):


I read all three of these in anticipation of the National Book Award ceremony and could not put them down. Such an important work, and gorgeously packaged in this box set. If I were going to get the same gift for everyone in my family, it would be this.

“You are capable of more than you think.”

They say in marathons, it helps to have a mantra. Something you can repeat in your head, return to when the going gets tough. This Sunday (i.e. in three days, ::gulp::) I will run the New York City Marathon. I’ve only one run marathon before, the Chicago Marathon in 2014, and something tells me it’s a little like childbirth. Your hormones and your brain work to trick you into doing it again.

nanowrimoThe day before the Chicago Marathon, I went on a shake-out run with some the running world’s biggest rockstars, and before the three miler, they shared with us plebes their tips. The one that stuck with me was about the mantra. I hadn’t given that much thought before, but I figured, well, if Deena Kastor says you should have one, I guess I’ll come up with something. I went with a classic for that race. Run the mile you’re in. When at mile ten, I started freaking out at the idea that I wasn’t even halfway done, I came back to that line. Run the mile you’re in. It quieted the crazy-talk that was creeping into my head. Just run the mile you’re in, Jenn. Sounds simple, but it helped. That’s all a marathon is, after all. One mile after another after another. If you take each one at a time, it’s almost manageable. Run the mile you’re in.

The mantra carried me through that race. Helped me sneak just under my goal of completing the marathon in four hours. But the truth is, it did more than that. It spoke to more than running. It spoke to my writing. The thing is, when you look at a big task like writing a novel . . . it’s pretty easy to freak out. No way can I write that many pages, that many words. But if you break it down into pieces  —  one page at a time, fifteen hundred words a day, revising one chapter at a time — you will get through it. Run the mile you’re in.

After a marathon, a lot of runners remark that they feel sort of depressed. This big thing they’d worked toward for so long is over. Now what? I wanted to avoid those feelings this time around, so I decided to embark on another epic challenge. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. By the end of the month, my goal is to have a first draft of a new project. Fifty thousand words, more or less. Eeeek, right? While I’ve participated in years past, it’s been a while since I’ve written quite so much in a compressed time period. The whole thing makes me a little nervy, but also a little . . . excited. A lot like the marathon.

Which brings me to my mantra for this year’s big race, one I hope to apply to my writing as much as to this Sunday’s run. You are capable of more than you think. I’d be lying to you if I said the training for this year’s marathon was easy. In the midst of training runs, I was traveling to promote The Distance to Home, moving across the country, and dealing with a range of nagging injuries. There were many Sunday mornings when the alarm went off and about the last thing on earth I wanted to do was get out of bed and go run for two to three hours. I’d get out there on the path as my legs woke up. The first few miles were always, always the hardest. And then something happened. Nearly every time. It got better. I discovered something about myself that I needed to discover, that was applicable in many more areas of my life than just running. I was capable of more than I thought. And I kept going, even when it didn’t get easier. Even when the last few miles were all-over leg pain and involved some walking breaks. I didn’t give up.

I don’t know how Sunday’s race will go, to be honest. While I’d love to best last marathon’s time, I have a feeling that’s probably out of reach. That the crowds will be too big for me to get going at my normal pace. That my hip flexor and my hamstring may not be in the mood for all of the 26.2 miles. But I hope that I remembered what I learned this summer about myself.

We are all capable of more than we think. In writing, in running, in so many things. Surrounded by fifty thousand people this Sunday, running through all five boroughs of New York City, that’ll be the line I cling to when the going gets tough. And it will. It’s a marathon, after all.

Fall update

Just realized it’s been more than two months since I last posted. A lot can happen in two months, but the last two months have been particularly exciting. With developments like . . screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-12-07-pm.

  1. Moving to Cincinnati! Having only been to Cincinnati for a couple days in June, this was a pretty big adjustment. We’re unpacked (if you don’t look in the attic — don’t peek in the attic!) and getting settled into our new home. Despite the fact that we ostensibly moved from the suburbs to the city, it feels a little bit like we moved from the city to the country. From my spot on the deck (a great reading spot, once I figure out how to get the mosquitos to stop munching on my legs), I can hear chickens clucking in my neighbor’s yard and follow the goings-on of the three deer and groundhog that visit our yard regularly.
  2. It turns out that when your book comes out in the summer, your summer will go by in a blur. I had so much fun reconnecting with my former librarian colleagues, visiting as a real live author the library where I worked as a teenager (pretty crazy!) as well as the library where I screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-12-26-pmheld my first professional library job, and meeting booksellers. I also got to see one of the 7th graders from my first teen librarian job as a college graduate at one of my readings! Whoa! How cool!
  3. Training to run this year’s NYC Marathon in November. So far, so good. (As long as no one’s tallying how many toenails I have, that is.) I’m fortunate to have a wide variety of gorgeous running spots in Cincinnati, like Lunken Airport, pictured, around which I have run 16 miles. Oof.
  4. The Baltimore Book Festival. I had so much fun playing Whose Book is it Anyway? with Baltimore area kids and fellow debut authors Brooks Benjamin, Bridget Hodder, Laura Shovan, & Erin Tscreen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-13-24-pmeagan. Also pictured, our delightful game show host, Matthew Winner of All the Wonders
  5. Pokemon Go. So, my eight-year-old nephew got me hooked on this game while we were on vacation in Cape Cod and now I can’t stop. Gotta catch ’em all, right? Well, let’s just say I caught a ton of Magikarp in Baltimore. And hatched some eggs.
  6. The Red Sox! Are going! To the playoffs!


screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-11-47-pm7. Getting acquainted with my new public library. (Hint: it’s fantastic and I am already driving up their circulation stats.)

8. Gearing up for the cover reveal of my second middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road, which will come out in June 2017 with Alfred A. Knopf. Can’t wait to share more info about it with you next week! (Pssst. Kidliterati will be hosting the reveal.)