The shape of a book

I just finished reading Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston.

Exit is a short book with a fresh and thought-provoking take on surviving rape. Her heroine Hermione Winters (named for Harry’s friend or possibly out of Greek mythology) is the golden girl, captain of the cheerleading squad, with a popular boyfriend. When Hermione is slipped a roofie on the last night of cheer camp, raped, and left in the lake, her life changes. She’s going to become “that girl.” Or will she?

Hermione’s search for herself while remembering nothing of what happened that night is wrenching and uplifting, in a stout and wry voice that we wish had belonged to us as teens.

Not only was it an excellent read, Johnston’s acknowledgements had a phrase that really made me think.

She thanks her friends and colleagues for helping her turn a “book shaped idea into a book.”

Think about that for a moment – a “book shaped idea.”

When does a story become a book?

Is it when it’s published – with cover art and an ISBN? That would be simplest.

Is it when it’s a complete manuscript, proof-read and copyedited, just waiting to be published? After all, nothing is really going to change at that point.

Is it when a first draft has been critiqued and polished and revised into a submission for agents and editors? A manuscript is more than a story.

Or is it when a vignette or a scene or two have become a full draft,  with a beginning, middle, and end?

I love Johnston’s concept of a book shaped idea. I love thinking of her original thoughts, her story, morphing and changing into the book I held in my hands, allowing me the pleasure of reading it.





What I read this summer

As I wrote way back in June, I’m not headed back to school this year. While I miss seeing my students and setting up displays of new books to share, I don’t miss being on the school schedule. (7:30 AM bus, anyone?)

It was a luxurious summer of settling into my new job and starting to shovel out the slush pile. Which was not only educational, but enjoyable. (Yes, I’m *that* crazy about reading.)

What else did I read? I caught up on some grown-up reading, enjoyed several new mysteries, and of course, treated myself to some kid lit.

  • The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
  • Girl Parts by John Cusick
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • First and Then by Emma Mills  – Emma’s newest is almost out ! Watch for This Adventure Ends!
  • Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
  • Damage Done by Amanda Panitch
  • Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland
  • The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is waiting on my bedside table for the perfect moment, and Betsy Bird’s Wild Things! has moved from the bookshelf to my bedside, too.

I’m thinking I need to read all of Erdrich’s Birchbark stories and dive into the pile of Candlewick advance copies I was so generously given. I meant to read so much more this summer, but much of my time was spent writing my second novel, which is finished and awaiting critique at Kathy Temean’s Avalon retreat.

Too many books, too little time. I never did get around to pruning my Goodreads to-read list. But that’s a good problem to have.

What did you love reading this summer?

School’s out

School’s out – and not just for the summer. After over twenty years as a librarian in special, public, and school libraries, I’m making a sea change.

I’ve loved being a librarian, most especially in public and school libraries. Nothing beats a child telling you that the book you helped them choose is the Best. Book. Ever! But in the prevailing educational climate, I found myself sailing against the wind and battling the tides too often. Not too mention, I’m not a teacher. Teachers are great! Librarians who are teachers are great!

But I’m not one of them. I’m just a librarian. I should say, I WAS just a librarian.

(Is being a librarian like being Jewish or Catholic? You no longer practice librarianship, but you still are one? And how come you never hear of lapsed Buddhists or Muslims or Baptists, even? Something to think about.)

As of yesterday, I am now … drum roll, please… the Assistant for the Dunham Literary Agency!🙂

I’m looking forward to learning even more about the business side of publishing. The seed was planted a couple summers ago at the NJSCBWI conference. I was chatting with new writing friends, a couple of whom were agented and published, when I mentioned that being an agent seemed  interesting. The new friends agreed, and someone said “You’d be a great agent!” whereupon another new friend said, “I’d be your client!”

I laughed and thanked them – that was quite a compliment coming from a published author – but demurred. I couldn’t do that, I thought. I don’t have enough experience. I don’t have the contacts.

But the seed was planted, and it grew. I kept thinking about it. What does an agent need to know? What people like to read. What makes a good book. Who might publish this book. How to negotiate contracts.

Huh. As a librarian, I know what people like to read. Part of the job is spending much of your time reading, reviews at least. (Nope, you don’t get paid to read all day.)

As a reader and a writer, I know what makes a good book. I’ve been reading since I was three years old, and I average a couple hundred books a year. I’ve only written one book, but I’m working on a second, and I take classes and work on my craft in many ways, from conferences to craft books to my critique group. I also spent much of the past year as an intern for an agency, reading manuscripts for a great kid lit agent. The slush pile is a great education in itself.

Who might publish a book? Well, no, I don’t have very many editorial contacts. But I’m willing to network and work on that. Plus submitting a book for sale to publishing houses is a lot like querying agents for submission. I’ve done that. And I can get better at it , especially with mentoring.

Surprisingly, I also know how to negotiate contracts because of my experience as a librarian. As a special librarian for corporations and government agencies, I managed budgets and vendors – my last budget as a library manager was just over a million dollars for a global consulting firm. Again, I’m willing to apply what skills I have and learn even more from the agents I work for.

So, school is out for me for the foreseeable future. (I won’t say for good. I’ve learned to never say never.) As I adjust to my new job and enjoy summer in the city, Z is for Zampetti will be on hiatus.

I’ll be back once I’ve figured out this new direction and an appropriate Twitter bio. (L is for Lapsed Librarian? Literary Agency Assistant.? Hmmm…)

Happy summer and when it’s time to go back to school – I won’t be. But I will be back here.🙂





Rock the Vault / Setting Thesauri

It is a writer’s job to draw readers into the fictional story so completely that they forget the real world. Our goal is to render them powerless, so despite the late hour, mountain of laundry, or workday ahead, they cannot give up the journey unfolding within the paper-crisp pages before them.

Strong, compelling writing comes down to the right words, in the right order. Sounds easy, but as all writers know, it is anything BUT. So how do we create this storytelling magic? How can we weave description in such a way that the fictional landscape becomes authentic and real—a mirror of the reader’s world in all the ways that count most?

The Setting Thesaurus DuoWell, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Urban Setting Thesaurus: Police Car.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of Writers Helping Writers is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!



Myth busting

A few years ago, I was privileged to be able to attend the Highlights foundations Children’s Writers Workshop in Chautauqua. They’re still helping children’s writers hone their craft, but now the workshops are available year-round in Honesdale, PA at the Highlights Foundation campus.

Courtesy of those lovely folks, here’s a few myths that need busting and a quick blurb for their newbies’ workshop. Not a newbie? You can find something more advanced here.

And if I had a dollar for every time I’ve personally busted myths #1, #4, and #5 in conversations… well, I wouldn’t need a day job!😉

Highlights Foundation, Intimate & inspiring workshops for children's authors and illustrators
Top 10 Myths About Writing Children’s Books

Children's books written on pebbles

Myth #1
Children’s books are easy to write.

Myth #2
If I write a picture book, I have to illustrate it too (or hire an illustrator.)

Myth #3
Children’s books have to rhyme.

Myth #4
Since my kids/grandkids/class love my stories, they would make a great book.

Myth #5
It’s really important to follow trends, and write about things like vampires and dystopias if you write for teens.

Myth #6
Boys will only read “boy books” and girls will only read “girl books.”

Myth #7
As soon as I sell my book, I can quit my day job.

Myth #8
After my book is published, I’ll be sent on a book tour and be a guest on Ellen.

Myth #9
Picture book characters should be talking animals, not children.

Myth #10
I’ll never get published unless I have an agent.

If this list surprises you, you might benefit from our beginner’s workshop, Everything You Need to Know About Children’s Book Publishing: A Crash Course, November 10-13. We’ll give you an overview of the children’s book industry, give you some writing exercises and share best practices for getting started on your career!

Workshop attendees

Did you know?
Our workshop costs are all-inclusive. Except for your travel costs, we take care of everything! You’ll get free transportation from the airport, lodging, meals, round-the-clock snacks and free wireless internet.

We would appreciate it if you would pass on this email to a friend.

If your would like to sign up for news and updates from the Highlights Foundation click here.

Highlights Foundation, Inc.
814 Court Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
Phone: (877) 288-3410
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Badge and Banner for #KidlitSummerSchool 2016 designed by by @BonnieAdamson ! Plus a #Giveaway!

Looking forward to another year of Summer School!

Nerdy Chicks Write

We are thrilled to reveal this year’s badge and banner for Kidlit Summer School 2016. Designed by the wonderful co-founder of #Kidlitchat, the extremely talented Bonnie Adamson, these little chicks shows both HEART and HUMOR! Details about a great giveaway follow so keep reading, but first, take a look at this banner: 

kidlit summer school banner final-brighter heart (2)

Now check out this awesome Badge!

badge final 4x4-brighter heart

Who could create something so amazingly nerdy and cute? Author and artist Bonnie Adamson! Here’s a little more about Bonnie along with a link to her website.

BonnieAdamson-2016 b&wBonnie Adamson is the illustrator of Bedtime Monster and the “I Wish” series of picture books for Raven Tree Press, as well as Rutabaga Boo!, written by the lovely and talented Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and due in Spring 2017 from Atheneum. Visit Bonnie at

Thank you for designing something so fantastic for Kidlit Summer School Bonnie!


To celebrate, we’re giving away a tote…

View original post 86 more words

How sweet!

I’ve been enjoying masses of homemade cards (classmade cards?) this week, as library classes ended for the year today. I love seeing what my students have to say about library – and their librarian.🙂




One fella really knows his way to a library lady’s heart:


Glad to know that I don’t look ancient and dusty like some of my books!

But the one that made me misty-eyed was this one:


Oh, my young friend, I wish the same for you. Happiness and many, many wonderful unopened books just waiting for you to turn their pages.

I hope with all my heart that each of my students knows how much I’ve enjoyed helping them discover their own love for books and reading – and how much I’ll miss them.